We had our monthly meeting of DARG, the Devon Apicultural Research Group in Somerset! It was hosted by the Quantock BKA at their apiary a couple of miles to the west of Bridgwater . They, through obtaining funding from several sources, have a magnificent hut; big enough to hold a barn dance in, with about an acre of ground with a score or so of hives/nuclei scattered around it. There was even an ancient bee-shed, which is no longer in use. Looking north, it is possible to see Wales.
There were almost a dozen of us present from 4 counties: Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Cambridge. DARG welcomes people from anywhere, so don’t be shy about joining us because you’re not a Devonian! We arrived about noon for a picnic lunch, tea and cake.
The game we played today was microscopy, led by Glyn Davies, who used to be a science teacher I think. There is a Manuka bush in flower in the apiary so we thought it would be a good idea to get a sample as nobody seems to find any in Manuka honey! We went out to visit it and Glyn borrowed my pocket magnifying glass to confirm that the anthers were laden with pollen before plucking half a dozen flowers to bring in to play with.
He had bought a mug warmer cheaply on Ebay and used it to warm a glass slide, adding a tiny lump of glycerine jelly and some dye to warm and liquify. The pollen-laden anthers were dabbed into the jelly and and a circular glass cover added. We took turns to examine the stained pollen through a microscope, magnified 400 times. The grains were triangular, about 7 microns across and it was possible to discern the internal workings.
Next to be dissected was a queen. She had been put in the fridge at 4 degrees C for an hour to anaesthetise her and she was quickly transferred to a phial of IPA (not Indian Pale Ale!) at the same temperature to kill her quickly and painlessly.
Glyn explained as he worked that he was meticulously careful to avoid any transfer of virus from one sample to another. He used a cocktail stick and a scalpel blade, both of which were discarded afterwards, first to separate the head and thorax and then to take apart the abdomen to remove the spermatheca.
The head and thorax will go to Declan Schroeder at Plymouth University for examination for viruses and their identification. The spermatheca will go to a vetinerary laboratory at Newton Abbott (I think) to be sectioned for subsequent examination. Both samples were given the same number so that, if anything interesting was discovered, they could be linked.
We looked at the spermatheca through the microscope and Glyn was surprised that it was smooth and pearly rather than covered with the usual network of vessels that keep the sperm oxygenated.
Nearly all the queens that have been examined so far have been drone layers, and therefore redundant to the beekeeper. For control and comparison we really need some healthy and productive queens a couple of years old, but beekeepers seem reluctant to part with them! Glyn did issue a few phials with fixative for people to use if they thought they might be able to obtain some.
We packed up and headed for home after more tea and biscuits. Although there had been a few short showers at the apiary, they didn’t amount to much but, getting home, I found the roads were wet and there was 3mm of water in my rain gauge. Clearly I had done the right thing by going to DARG!