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To Tell or Not to Tell

That was the dilemma I faced at a recent Association apiary demonstration, which was held in a member’s apiary.

To set the scene, it was a lovely day; the apiary held three colonies one of which was doing well and another was poorly. The apiary was well tended and everything in the garden looked rosy.

When we opened up the strong colony, with only a whiff of smoke the bees were so calm that they hardly noticed our presence. The top super had bees to the second last frames and the advice was given that they would soon require another one. The lower super also came off, and we opened up the brood chamber.

Once we got into the brood frames there seemed to be nothing wrong, some queen cells had been started and I was asked ‘what will we do with them?’ ‘Nothing until we check further was the answer’. Eggs were then seen and a further queen cell had been opened at the side.

The colony had certainly not swarmed, as it was full of bees. The situation was diagnosed as a supersedure queen and that it would be safe to destroy the queen cells as there was or had been very recently a laying queen in the colony.

Then it happened, the next frame did not have the good brood pattern of the other frames, but was decidedly ‘pepperpot’ in appearance.

AFB Frame
AFB Frame

A graphic showing bees foraging on flowers
Some cells (about three in the whole frame had greasy looking cappings. A matchstick was asked for and provided. The cells’ contents gave a very thin thread when the matchstick was removed. So slight that it was hard to see, you could imagine that it was not there; surely the cell contents should be thicker in consistency? Was I going to stick my neck out? Condemn the colony to a fiery fate? Or was I going to keep my suspicions to myself, and suggest that perhaps a sample should be sent to Teagasc for Patsy to check and determine the colony’s fate?

I was lucky in that earlier in the year I had spent my ten Euro and had purchased a field testing kit for detecting AFB from Vita (Europe). I decided that a demonstration was just that, a demonstration warts and all and so the kit was brought out and opened.

The contents of two of the greasy capped cells were placed in the reagent bottle, followed by a larva from an adjoining cell, and the bottle shaken for thirty seconds. Three drops of the liquid were placed in the lateral flow device (for all the world like a pregnancy test kit). An anxious wait ensued.

The first blue line appeared which showed that the test was working, then very faintly a second blue line appeared. That was it, the test was positive and the colony’s fate sealed.

It was one of the hardest things I have done to tell the proud owner that somehow AFB spores had found their way into her colony and that it would have to be destroyed.

Before that, however, we showed the assembly what to look out for and how to test with a matchstick. There was a lot of interest and in someways it made the demonstration worthwhile to think that other colonies would be looked at more carefully in the future.

It proved to me the usefulness of the Vita test kit. We had a definite diagnosis within three minutes of suspecting the presence of the disease. There was therefore less chance of it being spread to other colonies in the apiary (or even the district). The disadvantage is the cost.

Although the other colonies seemed clear, I advised the beekeeper to send off samples of brood from them to Teagasc in about three weeks time to see if there had been a spread to them.

For those who did not attend the microscopy sessions at Gormanston last year. The kit is bubble packed. There is a bottle containing a liquid and several steel ball bearings, a spatula for removing larvae from the cells. A pipette to place the drops of liquid into the test device, and the test device itself so it is fully self contained.

In use: the contents of no more than three cells are transferred to the bottle of liquid, which is closed and then firmly shaken for thirty seconds which macerates the larvae into suspension. Three drops are placed in the open hole of the test kit. There are two marks along the pad of the kit. The farthest one from the opening is the control and a blue line forms there if the test is working.

If there is any blue line at the nearer mark (no matter how faint) then the test is positive. The test is simple and I would suggest that each Association should carry at least one of the kits in its equipment.

Ruary Rudd