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  • 23 Nov 2023 7:27 PM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    Article taken from the ABC

    Reports of bee swarms in South Australia's South East have increased significantly after a "hectic" spring, but the ongoing threat of varroa mite to feral bee populations has potential to near-eradicate swarms in coming years.

    Pest controller and apiarist Sam Shaw said demand for swarmed bee removals has increased about tenfold from two or three calls per month a few years ago to 20 or 24 per month this year.

    "So far it's been pretty hectic," he said.

    "We've had a good spring so far. I know [the swarming season] came a bit later last year.

    "It just completely depends on the weather as well and it depends on how much room the queen has in a hive."

    Swarming creates new colonies

    Australian National University evolutionary biology professor Sasha Mikheyev said swarming was how honey bees reproduced.

    Professor Mikheyev said significant rainfall over the past three years had led to increased food for bees.

    "When conditions are good, the honey bees raise plenty of young. They have many new individuals and lots of food," he said.

    "That's when they decide that they can split and both halves of the original colony will keep growing. The mission is reproduction.

    "They've had opportunities over the past few years to build up their honey stores and also to build up their worker numbers.

    "What we're seeing now could be a manifestation of that."

    Although swarms more often form due to favourable conditions for bees, Professor Mikheyev said bees would also abandon a hive if it were diseased.

    In areas infected by varroa mite, this could lead to an increase in swarming behaviour.

    "If a colony is very heavily infested, they will sometimes fly off," Professor Mikheyev said.

    "Varroa tends to be around the brood and only a small fraction of them will go onto the honey bees and be transported, so swarming is a short-term solution for honey bees to deal with varroa."

    But in the long-term, scientists say the impact of varroa on feral European honey bees could reduce swarm frequency.

    "The swarms that we see now, we might not see quite as many of them a few years from now," Professor Mikheyev said.

    Domesticating swarms

    Mr Shaw said one benefit of beekeepers domesticating swarmed colonies was that it allowed for captured feral bee populations to be supervised more closely for varroa and other diseases.

    "We leave them for a week or so just to calm down and for them to get a bit settled, and then we'll do frequent inspections on them, usually weekly but maybe every fortnightly," he said.

    "We have to do yearly testing for varroa mite and any other hive diseases."

    Professor Mikheyev said national regulation for stricter management of supervised colonies, kept by both commercial and hobby beekeepers, would soon be enforceable.

    "They'll receive some sort of chemical treatment that will help keep the mites in check, otherwise the colonies will die," he said.

    "The feral bees of course will get no such treatment and it's not clear how many of them will die, but it's very likely to be more than 95 per cent."

    While swarms were typically timid, Mr Shaw advised people to stay away if they came across one.

    "It completely just depends on if they're aggressive or not," he said.

    "You'll find out pretty quick if you're walking past and they are aggressive.

    "Most of the time a swarm can just be resting there for a brief moment and they could be gone within a couple of hours." 

  • 23 Nov 2023 2:15 PM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    Original news article can be found here.

    James Cook University scientists say a common tropical bee species is vulnerable to widely-used insecticides – which will decrease their heat tolerance at the same time as the climate is warming.

    JCU PhD candidate Holly Farnan led the study, published today in the journal Royal Society Open Science. She said bees are critical components of natural and agricultural ecosystems and concern is growing about declines in their populations.

    "These declines are likely driven by a myriad of stressors including habitat loss, pathogens and parasites, competition from introduced species, poor nutrition and insecticide exposure," said Ms Farnan.

    She said the research focused on Tetragonula hockingsi, a small stingless bee that lives in the tropics and subtropics of Queensland and the Northern Territory and is a pollinator of both native plants and crops including mangos and lychees.

    The scientists tested the bees' response to common insecticides and heat stress.

    "Effects of insecticides could be reduced if bees avoided foraging on flowers contaminated with insecticides. But our work revealed no consistent avoidance of the insecticides by the bees.

    "We also found the bees had diminished tolerance of heat stress after non-lethal exposure to the insecticides," said Ms Farnan.

    "Even bees exposed to miniscule amounts of insecticide, certainly not enough to kill them, were more susceptible to the effects of heat."

    She said climate projections suggest global warming of less than 1°C will cause tropical regions to experience extreme conditions sooner than other regions of the globe.

    "The combination of heat stress and insecticide exposure may put this stingless bee at increased risk of decline," said Ms Farnan.

  • 22 Nov 2023 2:06 PM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    See original article here

    Scientists uncovered how honeybees organise their collective defence in response to predators and used computational modelling developed at the University of Innsbruck to identify potential evolutionary drivers of the behaviour.

    When a honeybee colony is attacked by a predator or seriously disturbed by a human who - accidentally or intentionally - got too close to the hive, the bees of the colony launch a coordinated counterattack to defend the colony and to scare off the trespasser. An important stimulus for them to start chasing and stinging the intruder is the presence of an alarm pheromone, which the bees carry on their stinger. In the event of an attack, the pheromone is dispersed either actively - by guard bees - or automatically upon stinging - by recruited soldiers. Thus, it carries information not only about the presence of an attacker, but also about the extent of the colony's counterattack. "The more bees have stung the intruder, the more alarm pheromone has been released with each sting and the higher its local concentration," clarifies Dr Morgane Nouvian, a biologist from Konstanz and joint-lead author of the study together with Andrea López-Incera from the University of Innsbruck.

    To understand how individual bees from the hive may use this information to make the ultimate decision to sting and possibly die for the good of the colony, the scientists observed individual stinging responses of Western Honeybees (Apis mellifera) from three colonies. Using different concentrations of natural and synthetic alarm pheromones and a dummy predator, they revealed that the aggressiveness towards the dummy - measured as the stinging likelihood - initially increases with the concentration of the alarm pheromones until it reaches a peak. However, at high concentrations, the aggressiveness drops back to a low level. This is the first time decreasing aggressiveness at high pheromone concentrations has been demonstrated under controlled experimental conditions. "One possible function of this 'stopping' effect of high concentrations of the alarm pheromone could be to avoid over-stinging and unnecessary sacrifice when attacking an already defeated intruder," Nouvian suggests.

    Artificial intelligence reveals evolutionary processes

    In social insects, be they honeybees or other social species such as army ants, individuals often coordinate their actions for the benefit and survival of the colony. For this reason, evolutionary selection processes in these insects acts on the group rather than the individual level. "Normally, if an organism dies, it cannot pass on its genes to the next generation anymore. In a bee colony, however, it is the queen that is responsible for reproduction. If another bee dies defending the hive but saves the queen in the process, the colony will continue to reproduce," Nouvian exemplifies. Because the bee colony functions as a single 'superorganism,' the behaviours of the belonging individuals can only be understood through the collective outcome to which they contribute.

    To further analyse their experimental results and address this peculiarity of the evolution of collective behaviours, the scientists used computational modelling based on so-called Projective Simulation, an approach originally developed by co-author quantum physicist Hans Briegel and his colleagues at the University of Innsbruck. In their agent-based model, each agent or "bee" has a very limited set of percepts - the concentration of the alarm pheromone and a signal that the predator is leaving - and actions - to sting or not to sting - relevant to the defence behaviour. "Based on this approach we have developed a model that is realistic but not too complex," explains Andrea López-Incera from the team of Hans Briegel: "In our computer simulation, each agent was called in turn to perceive the current level of the alarm pheromone. When a 'bee' stings, the concentration of the pheromone increases and the decision of the next 'bee' is based on a new pheromone level."

    A second important aspect of the model is that it includes a learning component: Neither the responses of individual bees nor the rules of interaction between them are predetermined. Instead, they "evolve" over many cycles of the simulation or, in other words, over many generations of the collective. "If decisions made by individual agents are beneficial to the collective under certain environmental pressures, they are positively reinforced. This increases the likelihood that the next generation will act similarly under identical conditions", Andrea López-Incera clarifies. Taken together, the agent-based approach with reinforcement learning at the group-level allowed modelling of the observed defensive behaviour of honeybees from the perspective of both, the individual bees and the collective.

    Putting the model to the test

    Using the model and different parameter combinations, several predictions could be made about the possible influence of environmental pressures on the defensive behaviour of bees. For example, the simulations suggest that colonies adapt to the strongest predator they encounter. This means that colonies that primarily encounter weak predators, such as mice or toads, are less likely to sting at high pheromone concentrations than colonies that more frequently encounter strong and difficult-to-deter predators, such as bears. "For the survival of the colony, it makes perfect sense to be able to cope with the worst predator around, even if that means over-stinging some of the weaker predators," Nouvian describes.

    The scientists also applied their model to the case of the notoriously aggressive "African bee", a subspecies of the Western honeybee. It has previously been suggested that the highly aggressive behaviour of this subspecies evolved in response to higher predation rates in the tropics and to highly specialized, hard-to-deter predators, such as honey badgers. Indeed, the simulation predicted that bee populations suffering from a high predation rate and predators that take a high number of stings before stopping their attack - as a model for the African bee - develop stronger defence responses than those that do not.

    "We were quite happy to see that our model supports the current hypotheses on how the higher aggressiveness of 'African bees' might have evolved. One of the next steps will be to collect empirical data from real bees in Africa to verify the results," Nouvian gives an outlook. Another step for the future is to model a more diverse population of bees. As mentioned before, there are at least two different types of bees involved in the defence attack of a real hive: guards and recruits. "In the current model, each bee in the collective followed the same decision-making process. Training a model with two different types of agents and comparing it with experimental data will be very interesting," Müller adds. In general, the modelling approach is highly versatile and can be applied to other tasks and species, providing a valuable new tool for studying the evolution of collective behaviour.

    The research was financially supported by the Austrian Science Fund FWF and the Volkswagen Foundation, among others.

  • 4 Jul 2023 11:14 AM | James FIELD (Administrator)

    BSSA produces a bi-monthly magazine, Buzzword. Download edition 118 here.

  • 21 Apr 2023 5:47 PM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)
    BSSA produces a bi-monthly magazine, Buzzword. Download edition 117 here.
  • 18 Jan 2023 3:34 PM | Natalie DIXON (Administrator)

    BSSA produces a bi-monthly magazine, Buzzword. Download edition 116 here.

  • 24 Nov 2022 8:58 AM | James FIELD (Administrator)

    Hi there,

    This afternoon PIRSA announced the varroa sampling program, targeted at beekeepers with 20 or more hives.

    SA beekeepers with 20 or more hives are being called on to play their part in protecting our state from Varroa mite by sampling 10% of their hives per apiary.

    Sampling hives gives PIRSA and industry confidence that SA is free of Varroa mite, and protects apiary businesses and associated pollination-dependent industries. The Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) is offering free sampling kits at a series of upcoming workshops across the state.

    At the workshops, beekeepers will receive their sampling kits, learn how to sample for Varroa mite and have the opportunity to ask questions.

    Workshop dates and locations:
    • Murray Bridge, 21 November, 6pm-7.30pm
    • Mt Gambier, 22 November, 6pm-7.30pm
    • Naracoorte, 23 November, 6pm-7.30pm
    • Keith, 24 November, 6pm-7.30pm
    • Loxton, 25 November, 6pm-7.30pm
    • Port Lincoln, 29 November, 6pm-7.30pm
    • Clare, 30 November, 6pm-7.30pm
    • Nuriootpa, 1 December, 6pm-7.30pm
    • Adelaide, 2 December, 6pm-7.30pm
    • Kangaroo Island, 6 December, 6pm-7.30pm.

    Media release

    Eventbrite link to register - Varroa mite sampling workshops Tickets, Mon 21/11/2022 at 6:00 pm | Eventbrite

    PIRSA Varroa web page –

    A post on PIRSA’s Facebook and Twitter

  • 4 Nov 2022 10:11 AM | James FIELD (Administrator)
    27 Aug 2022 2:14 PM | James FIELD

    BSSA produces a bi-monthly magazine, Buzzword. Download edition 115 here.

  • 16 Sep 2022 8:38 AM | James FIELD (Administrator)

    Just a BIG reminder that this year's Mount Barker  Show is upon us

    25th MARCH 2023

    It's that time of year again. The Mt Barker Show is upon us. We are looking for entries in honey (liquid, section comb), wax, honey on frames, anything, to be submitted for judging at the Mt Barker Show. As you know, these competitions are great fun and offer up all manner of bragging rights. This year is our 150th anniversary show and is going to be bigger and better than ever. I hope Our Society members can get lots of entries in.

     link to Show It has all the required entry regulations in it. Thanks for your support.

    From Crispin BOXALL

  • 15 Sep 2022 8:04 AM | James FIELD (Administrator)

    Members are invited to use this link to view submissions made to the senate regarding the effectiveness of the current biosecurity measures for foot and mouth and varroa. The BSSA have made a submission. 

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P.O. Box 283, Fullarton SA 5063
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