Presenter: John Hill MVB MRCVS, President of the British Bee Veterinary Association (BBVA), founded in April 2015
The care of bees was not a topic covered by the veterinary curriculum when I was a student, and as far as I’m aware is still not part of the teaching programme today. This is perhaps somewhat surprising given the importance of bees in the production of the world’s food supply and is one of the reasons why I found last week’s webinar covering the remarkable world of the honeybee so fascinating.
John Hill from the British Bee Veterinary Association led this webinar and offered an information packed overview on the biology, behaviour and diseases of the honeybee which have inspired some of the world’s most intellectual and influential minds including Darwin, Lorenz, Dawkins and Seeley. The discovery of the ‘bee dance’ was one of the amazing facts delivered by John who explained how the remarkable ‘wiggle’ dance performed by one bee in the hive could communicate the location of a food source to other bees within the hive. The direction of the ‘wiggle’ performed by the bee will depend on the position of the sun relative to the food source and the distance of the food source from the hive. This dance usually lasts around three minutes but in some cases it can last for up to an hour by which time the position of the sun will have obviously altered. The dancing bee, however will take this change in sun position into account and alter its wiggle accordingly and is a phenomenon which would indicate bees also have a sense of time.
Swarming is another intriguing behaviour seen in honeybees and is used as a method of colony splitting. The queen initiates this process by laying her eggs in a queen cell which will eventually go on to develop a virgin queen. Once this queen cell has been sealed the queen bee will leave with half of her worker bees and congregate in the open as a swarm with the queen in the centre for protection. Scout bees will then leave the swarm to search for a new site and once found, the swarm will fly over and continue to work as a colony in their new home. Meanwhile the virgin queen will emerge from the queen cell about 16 days post egg laying by the original queen. She will fly out on a mating flight finding 10-15 drones to mate with who will then immediately die. Once she has stored away the drones’ sperm she is fully equipped to start up a brand new colony.
Disease of the honeybee is of course one of the main areas relevant to the veterinary profession and John updated us with some of the conditions risking the health of the honeybee today. The use of neonicotinoids as pesticides in crops is one of the risks to bee health we are all likely to have heard about in the media in recent times. This pesticide builds up in the nectar of the crops which, if ingested by the honeybee, will have a significant detrimental effect on their central nervous system. The Varroa mite is another disease causing agent seriously risking the health of the honeybee today. It appears as large red mounds on the body surface of the honeybee and can inject a whole series of viruses which cause a number of significant problems. One of these viruses is known as the Deformed Wing Virus and does exactly what is says on the tin, rendering the honeybee useless. Colony Collapse Disorder is another multifactorial condition centred around the Varroa mite which is currently wiping out colonies around the world. This devastating disease leads to the complete and sudden loss of an entire colony where remarkably most of the worker bees appear to inexplicably abandon their hive.
This blog offers just a handful of amazing facts about the honeybee. John also provided detail on the make-up of a colony, how members of the colony work and communicate with each other and how honeybees work through the incredible process of making honey. It was clear from this webinar that bees work as one very efficient superorganism, all working effectively together with different roles to reach the same endpoint. The human race have taken full advantage of this process and now rely on bees to pollinate one third of the world’s food crops which is why it is imperative that the veterinary profession plays a key role in maintaining the health and welfare of the honeybee. This webinar gives an introduction to the fascinating world of bee keeping but if you are interested in finding out more, the British Bee Veterinary Association offers further education and information on how to ensure we do all we can to look after our invaluable honeybees.
The Stethoscope (MRCVS)