Bugs that eat Varroa Mites
And why might this start with a picture of a bug that looks like Edward Scissorhands? This is a teeny tiny pseudoscorpion we found on my farm, and we are super-enthused about it being here.
Last summer at the Netherlands “Learning from the Bees” conference, we were introduced to Torgen Schiffer’s groundbreaking work. He has identified a certain breed of pseudoscorpions who are co-habitators with honeybees that live in trees and other natural hive cavities.
And guess what? These guys eat varroa mites. So we asked ourselves, might we have those little critters here in the Pacific Northwest? Off we went, Thea Hayes (retired science teacher), Susan Knilans (I’ll do anything if bees are involved) and I went out seeking the little scorpions.
We dug, poked, stirred and shook dead leaves, hay and dirt until at last we found some. The pin-head size dozen we found are not the same breed they have in Europe, but Thea contacted researchers and pseudoscorpion experts who are helping us narrow down our search to find the mite-eating “book scorpions.”
All this is tremendously exciting because it tells us we are moving in the right direction, doing things the way Nature intended. These tiny (head of a pin size) book scorpions are roommates in natural bee hives, and they coexist magnificently. Book scorpions have been videoed stalking, catching and devouring mites, and someone also photographed a swarm with a bee carrying a book scorpion with them to their next home like a treasure that shouldn’t be left behind.
Thea (below) is holding the dozen “scorps” we found here. I’m sure you are asking, “Can I buy a jar of book scorpions and dump them in my hive?” Nope. That’s a rock solid no. The scorps are delicate insects who need to have exact conditions to thrive and reproduce in.
So how do we do that?
NATURALLY INSULATED HIVES
Pseudoscorpions need consistently reliable mid-range temperatures year round. Conventional hives are thin-walled and uninsulated, causing too many temperature fluctuations. Bees in thick-walled trees enjoy even indoor temperatures year round, which benefits scorps.
In tree hollows bees build in the upper portion, leaving an area below the combs where things “fall-away.” The pile of refuse and decaying material at the cavity’s bottom is home to many types of insects. Each insect has a task to perform that keeps the interior good for all. These hive inhabitants are in “good relationship” with each other.
The humidity level is exquisitely specific for book scorpions. If the interior approaches dampness, that spells death to the scorps and also can introduce mold, which is death to bees. Too dry and the life in the fall-away dries up. Bees easily maintain ideal humidity for everyone when their homes are not opened for inspections and manipulations.
MINIMAL HIVE INTERFERENCE
There are hundreds of ways to take care of bees and they range all over the map from destroying drone comb, to annual queen culling, to preventing swarming. Too often hive manipulations are passed along as if they came from the mouth of God. I intuitively knew early in my bee career that I needed to question everything I was told and ask of all ideas, “Would bees choose to do this?”
If the reason we do something is because of human convenience, it likely isn’t best for bees. Hives that …
* are thin-walled and poorly insulated
* with top-to-bottom comb and no room for a fall-away
* have uncontrolled humidity
* lack interdependent insect co-habitators
* are constantly “managed”
— are not suitable homes for bees and varroa-eating pseudoscorpions. We have a good ways to go on this project. We’ll keep you informed of our progress. It is our belief that we may continue to have relationships with bees, but if we want them healthy again, we likely will have to make significant changes. I was already heading this way in my bee care, so I am really pleased to learn that science is backing these ideas up.
Here are a few suggestions:
* Let’s re-design hives to be more suitable habitats
* Let’s stop focusing on honey production.
When we take a lot in a banner year, what happens next year in a dearth?
Can we let go of honey being the beekeeper’s tax on the bees?
* Can we significantly reduce our hands-on management and
make it more bee-centered? Let’s examine all the sacred cows
that surround beekeeping, like queen-rearing and medicating treatments.
* Most of all, let’s ask ourselves how bees prefer to live and give them what they seek.
What might this new world look like?
Here’s a get-together our Preservation Beekeeping club organized with Matt Sommerville from England, who came to our farm in January. Matt showed us how to create honeybee habitat with big sturdy logs.
Together, we are helping each other learn better ways to enjoy the company of bees. We can do this. The fair trade Nature offers is a good one. When we respectfully keep bees as Nature intended, bees thrive.