by Randy Oliver
Colony Population Dynamics
Those of you who have been following my articles know I’ve been focusing around this Chart from Lloyd Harris’s fantastic data set where he marked a hundred  bees in thirty-five  colonies every twelve  days with paint. And then every twelve  days again, would go back there, count how many of those bees are still surviving. Mark another hundred  bees, and measure the amount of sealed brood every twelve  days in all those thirty-five  colonies, over the course of a year and a half.
Monster extremely valuable data set that sat for twenty  years, not looked at. And he started digging it out a few years ago and publishing papers. I’ve been using it quite a bit for this. And what it shows is the age of the, it shows a number of things. The dotted line, this is for Manitoba colony started. This is a composite one. He started them from packages in the Spring and then ran them through that entire year, and through till to the next July or August when he killed off the colonies.
I put the two  together to make this one year’s worth to show how this worked. The dotted line is the amount of brood, total brood, open sealed brood in the colony, colonies at one time. These are all averages. This is from Manitoba for colonies that went into a shed during the Winter. The red area is the population of bees that are less than twelve  days old at any time in the hive, so any time point. So at this time point you had roughly fourteen thousand [14,000] bees that were zero to twelve [0 to 12] days old. This orange is the number of bees, the next age group, the next twelve  day age group, up to twenty-four  days. Up to thirty-six  days, up to forty-eight , and very few bees during the Summer live to sixty  days.
The numbers along here is the Average Age of all the worker bees in the hive, at that time point.
And what you can see is from early Spring until late Summer, the Average Age never gets over twenty-six   days. Some has, it’s younger than that. So that you have a very young population of bees at that time of year. During the Winter, if you have a cold Winter, as you do here, the bees start to age. The surviving bees after the Fall turnover when all the bees have reared brood are forged fly off, abandon the hive and die. You start getting bees aging. Where you get bees that are living up to two hundred to three hundred [200 to 300] days of age, until the Spring turnover when these aged bees in their last gasp of energy, raise the huge new cohort of bees. At this point you can have three  times as many bees in the brood, as you have adult bees covering them. That’s that critical Spring turnover, when suddenly then it will shift over here. And if the colony gets through this Spring turnover, this critical point right here, then it just takes off in this linear growth phase. All this stuff is on my website.
Colony Population Responds To Pollen Availability
The point of all this, I tracked this out for two  years here. Is that Actual Colony Population is the function of how much pollen is coming out. How much the Nutrition of a hive is mainly pollen. That’s where the protein comes from. Now we could just erase all these dates, and use this anywhere in the World. I just got back recently from speaking in Mexico, and we talk about Winter, because Winter correlates with cold weather and short days here. To the bees, Winter correlates with pollen availability. And in Mexico, [Inaudible] areas where it’s quite hot during the Summer, the bees, their Fall comes in July, and their Winter starts in August, and the bees just shut down. Stop rearing brood and go into what looks like a Wintering condition. They don’t have to form the cluster. And their Spring starts in November when it starts to rain again. So, to the bee colony, the Winter/Summer demographics are more about pollen availability than they are for cold.
In California, you would take this graph where I live, and just cut off this end [ right side], and cut off this end [left side], and just stretch this out. If you’re up further up in Canada, you would squeeze this together, and this part would be longer. So, this can be adjusted for any area. And again, it’s just all about pollen.
What I did here is I tracked the amount of pollen availability where I live. Where we started off early in January with the Alder trees start to bloom. We had a little bit of Spring bloom, all the pollination has a huge amount of pollen. Then we have the Fruit Bloom after that. And then after the Fruit Bloom, when the apples and cherries are done blooming, we have about two  weeks of almost nothing coming in.
Then it starts to build up on the wild flowers by mid Summer. It peaks out, drops to almost nothing. And then right now we’re enjoying some little tiny bit of Fall Bloom. In California we don’t get the Fall Bloom that you get East of The Rockies, where you have rain during the Summer. Lucky we got some thunderstorms a couple of days ago. And I could hear the sigh of relief from all the vegetation around me.
Protein Flow In The Hive
So let’s look at the Protein Flow in the hive. So just to get the basics of the biology, here’s they dynamics of the hive. You have an energy reserve. The honey bees are all about honey, about storing energy. Just like we may store energy for the Winter in the form of coal, or the propane, or the heating oil. They store it in the form of honey. So this is your Energy Reserve, the sealed honey. Then you have the Energy Interface, which is right between the bee bread and the honey. The Energy Interface is where they’re either uncapping stored honey, and utilizing that as an energy source. Or they are depositing fresh nectar, as they turn it into honey for storage. So when the colony has surplus of Nectar coming in, this gets, the brood nest gets pushed down when the bees are consuming their honey to stay warm, or for energy for flying. They eat their way up here and they’ll move the brood nest up. So it’s a dynamic area right here.
The Protein Interface is right here. Right between the brood and the honey. This is where you have this rapid turnover of incoming pollen that is quickly consumed by the nurse bees, and it’s converted into to protect that food, to put it into their bodies, as fast as they can. Pollen is very easily attacked by microbes or decomposers, insects, everything wants to eat pollen. Pollen is very nutritious. So the first thing the bees do is they hide it inside their bodies. They get it into their gut; they put it into their fat bodies. They put it hypopharyngeal glands, and they put it into the brood. And they use the brood as Protein Reserve that they can cannibalize, at any point, and take protein back out of. If there’s a surplus of pollen still left after they’ve eaten all that they can that day, then they go into the process of fermenting it by packing it down with their heads, adding some nectar to it. Putting a thin film of honey over the top, so it forms an anaerobic with that oxygen substance there. We’re gonna talk about that later, what happens? Then for long term storage?
Then you have your protein and energy to man, which is the brood right here and the workers, and for many of us, the food base for raising Varrila right here inside these sealed brood. So I pointed out, last night many of the groups of the non-professional beekeepers that I talked to really should more be termed as Verilla [SP] farmers than beekeepers. And they do a really good job of just growing lots of Varrila food every year.
Jelly Is The Currency For Protein Transfer
Now the neat thing that bees do is they do something similar to what mammals do. Female mammals do not feed their babies raw food. The mother eats the food, digests it, and then secretes a perfectly nutritious food for their babies; we call it “milk”. The bees do a very similar thing; they produce a substance called “jelly”. And that is the food, not only for their babies, but here’s the neat thing.
All species use a protein, a yolk pre-cursor, called the “vitellogenin “. The “Vitello” mean yolk gemineze creation. So it creates “yolk” out of this. And the honey bee, most of the females, don’t lay eggs. They have no real use for that vitellogenin, so they give it another use, and they use it to, as a storage protein, and to put into the “jelly”, and use it for protein transfer throughout the hive. The way this works is the only bees in the hive that are able to digest pollen, and get the protein out of it are the “nurse bees”. The bees typically from about two  days old, after they emerge, to about fifteen  days old. And that’s not written in stone. That could be extended or shortened up. Once the bees transition into “older duties”, and going from mid-age bees into “foragers”, they shift their digestive enzymes and they lose their ability to digest pollen completely. So, if a “forager bee” happens to eat some pollen, it just shots through his gut in a few hours without any digesting take place at all. So, it’s a “forager”, pollen is of no benefit to them. So, what they have to do is they have to beg for a little bit of “jelly” from the “nurse bees”.
Broodnest Bees and Foragers[Inaudible] is really easy if you’re doing those [Inaudible] sampling. Where you’re using the Ziploc method of putting some bees in the bag, crushing them, and adding water to check for Nosema spores. If you’ve got a bunch of bees up in the Broodnest, the liquid around them will look like this, full of pollen that’s coming from the guts of the “nurse bees”. If you do it with “foragers”, the liquid will be clear, cause there’s almost no pollen in the forager guts. It’s very easy just to age the bees by crushing them, putting them in some water, and looking at the color. Just to tell you whether they are “forager bees” or “nurse bees”.
Colony Growth Is Dependent Upon Beebread To Feed The Nurse Bees
So this, we have this transition of the incoming pollen or the stored pollen then shifting to, for recruitment of rearing new bees in the colony. And here’s how the Flow works. From the Foragers bringing it in, to the temporary storage here, which can be very quick. It can be eaten within hours, or it can be stored, as a beebread for months. The “nurse bees” then producing the “jelly”, they pass it among themselves, in the colony communal stomach. So, if there’s “jelly” abundant in the colony, it’s spread throughout the colony. Everybody suffers or benefits the same. The whole colony knows. All the foragers know, everybody knows what the protein condition is in the colony at any moment. Cause those foragers coming back beg for some “jelly” from the “nurse bees.” And if they don’t get much “jelly” that tells the foragers, hey, we’re short on protein. We better go start foraging for pollen. If there’s abundant “jelly” that says, Oh, well, protein is not that important right now. We can forage for nectar instead. All these feedback loops in the colonies for the regulation of the foraging are just fascinating. And then from the “nurse bees” then this, that “jelly” goes out to all the rest of the bees in the hive.
The “nurse bees” their Hypopharyngeal Glands are fully developed to, they’re now [Inaudible] of the mammary glands of mammals, to produce that “jelly”, the [Inaudible] when they become “foragers”, and they will no longer produce “jelly”. The “foragers” are able to reverse this and reactivate their Hypopharyngeal Glands. Not quite as good as they were when they were “nurse bees”. But if you were to start, say you package bees, it’s nothing but just “foragers”. They would be able to go back and start producing “jelly” and feeding the larvae.
Protein Is Stored As “Vitellogenin”
The vitellogenin is also stored in the fat bodies. These are two  bee abdomens here. I got a new pointer. Dr. Eric Mussin [SP] pointed out at a recent conference that some percent of the male population is unable to see red. And I had a red pointer, and I said, Oh, man, I don’t want people not to be able to see what I’m pointed at. So I bought this green pointer. And I’ll tell you, we went out on our deck, which overlooks a mountain range, and went out at night, we couldn’t wait the rest of the night. It kept getting darker and darker; I kept going out and trying it. My wife and I, and with our binoculars to look at the tree trunks across the canyon. And you can pick this little pointer up clear across the canyon at night. It’s just amazing how powerful these things are. Anyway, these are the fat bodies storage.
So, these are – this would be a “nurse bee” or a Winter bee. Or, a Diutatius [SP] bee, or Survivor bee.
So, the bees I was talking to Steve Coy this morning about the Russian bees. And in my area, during the Summer when there’s very little pollen, late Summer, they go into Survivor Mode. The Diutitus Mode, or similar to Winter bees, where they stop brewing brood completely, and they just load up their abdomens with all the protein that they can hold. And they just hunker down, and they wait for things to get better, okay.
Low Vitellogenin Bees
Now the problem when “Vitellogenin levels get low in a colony is that it really changes the bees a lot. They start to age more quickly. They start to forge more quickly. They get sick much easier. They can’t resist the viruses. And they shut down the brood rearing. This has huge effects on the colony dynamics. The colony health and colony growth. And it happens very very fast. If you get even a day’s rain, Karl Krailsham in Germany found that the “nurse bees” cut back immediately on the amount of “jelly” that feed to the larva. Now the larvae they are only fed for six  days. They get cut back in “jelly” for one  day, those bees when they emerge as “foragers”, as “workers” later on will not be the “foragers” that they could have been, if they had been fed continuously for all sick days. So, it’s amazing how quickly the “nurse bees” respond, and start cutting back on the amount of “jelly” coming in.
Colony Protein Requirements
The colony population curve is based on just two  things, recruitment and nutrition. Recruitment is the number of young bees emerging each day. And Nutrition is the number of bees that are dying, either from just aging, or wearing out, or whatever. Or Altruistic Self-Removal — any time a bee feels sick due to an exposure to a toxin, due to a virus infection, due to Nosema infection. That bee, in order to protect its sisters, sacrifices itself. It just flies out of the hive and it doesn’t come back. So a large part of this colony’s nutrition is based upon this Altruistic self-removal. In the most extreme case of Altruistic Self Removal, we call that Colony Conscious [Inaudible] Order.
And if you never watched the colony evaporate in two  days, it’s pretty damn impressive. How a big strong colony, if it has a combination of say a paralytic [SP] virus and Nosema infection, and a little Nutritional Stress, it can just go puff. And the bees just all fly out leaving the brood behind, it’s just amazing. We went through it pretty bad in California. Around two thousand [2,000]. From two thousand four  to about two thousand eight , we had a lot of sudden colony collapses.
Concurrent with the invasion of Nosema Surrania. I kind of have this feeling that Nosema Surrania [SP] had a lot to do with that colony collapse. At least where we lived in California.
You can see here, what I plotted out here for just a Typical Colony Growth Curve over the season.
This would be your daily change in number of bees in the hive. So you’re gaining 300 bees per day.
So, like if a queen is laying fifteen hundred [1,500] eggs, and say you have a hundred percent [100%] Survival, you’d have fifteen hundred [1,500] new bees being recruited that day. If you have a Net Gain of three hundred , that means that twelve hundred [1,200] bees are dying from attrition on that day. Now the queen is going to lay at the same rate, so this is saying up here, you’re having fewer, remember the Colony Demographics. We’re getting a younger colony right here. Now you have fewer bees die, so more bees can survive. So, now we’re getting a gain. And the fastest colony growth with a really good queen, about that six hundred  bees per day Gain is about the best you’re going to get. And that how why you get that Linear Growth, because it’s a constant. It’s not expediential, it’s just a constant. You’re gaining that many bees per day.
The colony tops out usually around July for the Honey Flow. And then it starts to lose bees at a high rate, and then at a lower rate into the Winter.
Good Recruitment Requires a Vigorous Queen, Ample Pollen, And a Nectar Flow
The recruitment to maintain or to build that rate is all dependent mainly upon the queen’s egg laying rate. The queen’s egg laying rate determines what your top out population will be. The colony will grow at that rate, until you reach equilibrium. When you, Lloyd Harris figured out what the Survivability Curve was for the worker bees. And at some point, when the colony grows to a certain point, the natural attrition of the workers will match the egg-laying rate of the queen. And at that point the colony stops growing. That’s maximum top out population. You cannot make the colony grow any bigger than that.
It takes about sixty  days when the brood nest is established till the colony reaches maximum population. And that maximum population is set by the queen’s egg-laying ability. She can only lay a thousand [1,000] eggs a day compared to a Queen that can lay two thousand [2,000] eggs a day. The maximum population is gonna be about thirty-five thousand [3,500] for a Queen laying a thousand [1,000] eggs a day. You can get up to seventy thousand [70,000] or so for a Queen that can lay two thousand [2,000] eggs a day. So, that’s set by the Queen’s egg laying rate. And it’s limited by the amount of protein coming in. So, the colony that, if it rains several days a week, will never not be able to grow to the extent that the colony has can forge every day and have good pollen can grow.
Extraordinary Rate of Population Growth
Colony growth, so this is a picture that I took. What we do in the Springtime, and beekeeping is different everywhere you go. So, I don’t try to make any generalities about Beekeeping. My experience is all in the California Foothills of Beekeeping. I can talk in length about Beekeeping in the California Foothills. What we do is we come back from Almonds, and we Split every colony we own. We wind up with four  colonies for every one  that we bring back from The Almonds. We sell about a third [1/3rd] or a half [1/2] of our operation off every Spring, as Nucs. And then we rebuild the rest to up for the Honey Flow. So, this would be an early Spring, after we had Split our colonies into five  frame Nucs, and after a few weeks they have built up. And they look like this. These colonies are living “hand-to-mouth” right now. They’re just solid Brood in here. But we have a real dependable Nectar and Pollen Flow at that time of year. And we can Super them up and get ready for the Honey Flow right here. The amazing thing is just how quickly they can grow.
Growth Rate of a Broiler Chicken
So, to put it in perspective, I looked at the Growth Rate of the fastest growing animal I could think of.
And that would be the Hybrid Broiler Chicken. When I was about early twenties [20’s] I ran a Feed Store.
And I read Morrison’s Feed and Feeding, which was the classic Animal Husbandry book, at that time. And it took nineteen  weeks to grow a Broiler Chicken for harvest, from egg to harvest, nineteen  weeks.
Who can tell us how long it takes to grow a Broiler Chicken from egg to harvest now? Six  weeks. That’s the progress we have made in Selective Breeding of the chickens. Okay, we haven’t made any kind near that kind of progress with the Honey Bee. So, these Hybrid Broiler Chickens are an incredibly fast growing animal. And it occurred to me, they pass the two  pound mark along that growth. Which is the same as a two  pound package of bees. And I can compare the Growth Rates between a two  pound package of bees and a two  pound broiler chicken. So, I plotted this out by days right here, and by weight in pounds. So, here’s the Growth, the Broiler Chicken Growth Rate. Now I found two  data sets for Honey Bee Growth Rate for the weight of the actual bees in a package.
Growth Rate of Package Bees Vs. Broiler Chicken
Now in a package it’s gonna drop for twenty-one  days, because the bees die before they get any new brood. And then it starts to grow. And once it starts to grow, they grow faster than the Broiler Chicken.
So, the fastest growing livestock we have gets less and less by the Honey Bees. But this doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story. Because the Broiler Chicken, if it’s putting on any extra food, it stores it as fat under its skin, on his body. You’ve all seen the fat there, that’s the “reserve” for the Broiler Chicken. This, these two  lines for the Honey Bees don’t have their “reserves”, because where do they store their reserves? In the comb, in the hive. So, let’s look at the actual weight of the total bees.
Total Weight Gain of Package Bees Vs. Broiler Chicken
So, here’s the Broiler Chicken just slowly slowly along here. This is what a Bee Colony does right here. It has a Rate of Growth that we can’t even conceive when we compare it to other livestock. If you’re growing a livestock that fast, what’s that tell you about
They’re beyond – way beyond any other kind of livestock. Bees need to get maximum productivity out of the colony. You need to have absolutely optimal Nutrition with zero breaks at any point. Okay, any break, even for a day, will slow that colony down on its buildup. Everybody clear on this? How, just for Growth, and I’m not even talking about Disease Resistance right now, or varroa resistance or virus resistance.
Complete Turnover of Adult Population Every 42 Days
When I do calculate it out based on Lloyd’s Survivorship Data, it works out that, if you walk out to a hive, and people say. Well, not if you only visit them every forty-two  days, because it’s a whole different population of bees every forty-two  days. Total turnover of that population of bees, that’s how long it takes to turn them over. And bees are made out of protein. So, to replace all those bees in the hive, you need to have enough protein to turnover the population of forty-two  days.
And for a decent sized colony that takes about one  to two  pounds of high quality pollen per week, every week. And if you get a weeks’ worth of rain, and no pollen comes in, that means you’ve got to double your pollen income the next week to make up for that to take care of the deficiency that they went into.
Requires 100 – 200 grams of Quality Protein Per Week
That amount of pollen works out to be about a hundred  to two hundred  grams of protein per week. That is for colony maintenance, not for colony growth. For Colony Growth you need even more than that. So, those of you who are taking notes on numbers, these are your numbers, if you’re looking at something on a feeding. A hundred  to two hundred  grams to maintain a decent size colony, even more of protein to grow a colony.
Requires 1 – 2 Lbs. [0.5-1 kg] Mixed Pollens Per Week
To get that amount of Protein required again, one  to two  pounds of pollen or beebread coming in.
Poor Nutrition Equals Poor Broodrearing
As soon as it’s reduced, they reduce brood rearing. They cut on the brood rearing, or they start cannibalizing the eggs they brood. I don’t know how many people have noticed this. In my area, in the Springtime, especially during our pollen dirth, after the Fruit Bloom, those Queens are just laying their hearts out every single day. And the workers just follow them behind and eat those eggs just as fast as the Queen lays them. And they’ll keep consuming those eggs, until pollen starts coming back in. They they’ll start feeding larvae again. So, you go out every day, and you go, Wow, that Queen’s just kicking butt. Look at all these eggs. But the colony is not growing. Why is the colony not growing? And if you’ll look carefully, you’ll see that Queen, the workers, the “nurse bees” eat the eggs right back up, as fast as the Queens lay them. So, it’s the – it’s not just the Queen that sets the egg laying rate in the colony. It’s the “nurse bees” decide which larvae they’re going to allow to live and they’re gonna feed.
So, we the commercial Italian Stocks we breed are bread not to be Environmentally Responsive. They’re bread to be just full tilt going all the time. And that’s why it’s very easy for them fail, if they don’t have adequate protein coming in. And that’s part of our Breeding Selection for that.
The guys who breed the Italian Stocks are Package Producers. And what do you want with Package Production? You want monster bees that just brood up, and just keep going, and keep going, despite whatever is happening in the environment. So we breed for bees that will do that.
Nurses Readily Cannibalize Eggs And Larvae
If the nectars are the Pollen Flow, and nectar gets reduced by rain seriously. This is a picture I took; we had a rain fall event in April a few years ago where the bees couldn’t, or snow and rain came in right when those colonies looked like in that picture I showed you with the single boxes, wall-to-wall bees. And it snowed on them, it wasn’t that cold, but they could not forage. And those colonies were all living hand-to-mouth, they were fairly light. We didn’t expect that snow, at that point. And immediately the bees started responding within, this is taken five  days after that snow fall event. And you see the bees have consumed every bit of honey in the colony. Every bit of beebread, they would eat the eggs, and they ate the young larvae, and the older larvae. They don’t eat the sealed pupa [SP] generally, because they don’t need any more feeding. So, that’s the last salvation for the colony is to have those sealed pupa [SP] emerge. They leave the sealed pupa [SP] in there, but they eat everything up. Those colonies, we got out during that weather event, and that we were able to give a little bit of feed to. Just cooked right along and made a Honey Crop. Those that cannibalized their brood, they didn’t die most of them. But then had to rebuild after that, and none of them put on enough honey to make it through the Winter. We had to supplementally feed them. So, just the “ounce of prevention” worth a “pound of cure”. The “ounce of prevention” of going out during that rainy weather and putting a little bit of feed on the colonies, allow the colonies for the rest of the year to take care of themselves. Those that we allowed to that got to this point did not take care of themselves.
Nosema Steals Protein And Energy
Nosema, this is a picture of a bee’s tracheal tube here. All these little bright spots are Nosema spores. That’s how dense Nosema gets into the bee’s gut. Nosema to grow this population of Nosema it takes a lot of protein. And the bee, and Nosema steals protein from the bee’s gut. And Nosema does not have ATP; it steals the energy directly from the bee. So, these guys just suck up energy and protein out of the bee’s gut. So, they hamper the bee’s ability.
Poor Nutrition and Precocious Foraging
And again, the Poor Nutrition leads to Precocious Foraging. So, instead of waiting till they’re fifteen  days old to start foraging, they may start foraging when they’re four  days old, or six  days old. The time clock for bees’ life span pretty much starts when they start foraging. They’re only gonna forage for a week or so. So, that means if they start foraging five  or six  days earlier they’re gonna have that knocked off into their life span. So, what does is on your, yeah.
Precious Foraging Shortens Lifespan
On this curve right here it’s gonna reduce this number, if they’re going uphill. And it increases number if they’re gonna go downhill. And the colony will be much poorer for that early Foraging. This is part of what happens in CCD. As the colony starts to, as the bees start to evaporate with that Altruistic Self Removal, it forces the younger bees to start foraging earlier. And you get this positive feedback loop that they stop feeding brood. They start dying quicker, and just, in a few days it still balls, and the colony population evaporates.
Poor Nutrition – Reduced Resistance to Virus
This study by Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman showed that bees, when they emerge pretty much every bee that hatched, that has laid an egg now has deformant [SP] virus virtually transmitted from the mother. And when they emerge as larvae, they if they get good nutrition, they suppress that virus and keep it in the latent state. So, pretty much every bee has deforming virus all the time. Just like everyone in this room as Herpes Virus, most of you, this age, have chicken pox virus. You keep it latent in your body, unless your immune system is suppressed. If you get AIDS, or you get old, then those suppressed virus can flair back up. What she found was critical was how much protein those larvae were fed, and they’re in order to keep that virus down. And the ones that were fed pollen kept the virus level very very low. The ones that are fed a Pollen Supplement, virus level went up more. And the ones that were fed no pollen went up quite a bit.
Poor Nutrition Exacerbates Varroa Issues
And that ties right into this that poor protein really exacerbates Varroa problems. What I found in the Sierra Foothills, I just couldn’t keep bees alive during the Summer in the Sierra Foothills. So, I would transport all of those bees up to irrigated pasture in Nevada. I did that for many years, simply because they would survive up there. On good forage, the bees that go up to out of California to North Dakota, to Montana, to irrigated pasture elsewhere just do way better than the bees that are left in California.
What we’ve done, my sons and I have done, and this is what my interest in Bee Nutrition, we learned how to feed the bees supplemental protein. And now we keep them all near home. They’re still not as good, as if we would have taken them to good Pasture, but we’re able to keep them; it’s a Lifestyle Choice for us to stay near home rather than being Migratory Beekeepers.
Beebread And Microbes
Okay, now this brings up another question. And that’s Beebread and Microbes are the Microbial Community that’s within the bee. And especially the relationship of that and the fermentation of pollen. A very compelling story has grown over the years. That the Microbes are involved in improving the Nutritional Quality of the pollen in the process of Fermentation. And then every time that story gets re-told, it got better and better. And then in the Internet, in recent years, I heard. “Well, bees can’t even digest pollen. It would have been for a minute, before they get any nutritional value out of it.” So, that’s the extreme version of that right there.
So, the question is, is this fermentation of pollen in the beebread really necessary for digestion?
Or, is this simply for preservation?
Scientific Publications Referring To “Apis Mellifera” Over Time
We’re learning a lot about bees, since we started getting Elevated Colony Mortality in the U.S. Veeral, as the viruses evolve, that’s vorilla [SP] settled in, and as Nosema Sorani [SP] invaded most of the World around the year two thousand , suddenly it became much harder for bees to stay alive. And what you can see is, right around then in two thousand and four  is when we had our first [1st] major shortage of bees for Almond pollination in California, brought it to the attention. They have a [Inaudible] birth at two thousand seven , then made all the papers, and then all the public became aware of Colony Collapse Disorder. And suddenly it was a gold mine of funding for anybody who wanted to be a Bee Researcher. You just put CCD in your proposal, and people threw money at you. Just like now, if you put Neo Nic [SP] [Inaudible] in it, people just throw money at you. And this is the number of publications, high tech publications with the words “Apis Mellifera” on them over time. And you can see research on bees just exploded, following CCD. So, we’ve learned a lot about bees in this period of time.
Dr. Kirk Anderson, USDA ARS, Tucson
But ARS Lab just did something very wise. They do this, is you bring in a researcher who knows nothing about bees, but knows a whole lot about something else. And you say, Look at bee issues with fresh eyes that you haven’t read all the bee books and got all the wrong information.” Okay. And there’s been a number of these guys come in, and it’s fantastic. Because these guys come in and say, well, they’re great. Well, Kirk might say this, but most of them are a little more discrete. And I see this over and over again, that the research community will publish all these papers, based upon sloppy methodology or something. They bring somebody else in from outside that, No, you guys screwed up just, you might as well retract all those papers, because that was all wrong findings.” But now they’re all in the Bee books, and in the Public Knowledge Base. So, Kirk is one  of those guys, and Kirk and I hit it off. And we communicate constantly on this.
Typical Niches of Bacterial Groups
I just published this chart. This is a summary of the work from Kirk, from Nancy Mirand [SP], from Martin Symptrom [SP], all the people who are using Next Generation Sequencing, to figure out what microbes are in the bee gut. Instead of using Culture Dependent Sequencing, where you make petri dishes, and you try to grow bacteria, and name them. You only see maybe one-tenth [1/10th] of one one hundredth [1/100th] of the species when you do that. These Next Generation Sequency when you actually look at the DNA in there, then what you come up with, you don’t come up with species; you come up with OTU’s. And so when you read these things, you’ll see how many OTU’s. And OTU is an Operational Taxonomic Unit, which means, it’s a species, but there’s no name for it yet. When they finally figure out, if when they culture that OTU, and then can extract the DNA, and say, Oh, yes. This is a species, now we can name it. Then it gets a species name. When they start with Next Generation Sequencing they pan out. We don’t have names for most all of the bacteria out there and those found in bees. There are a few that have developed some kind of symbiotic relationship mainly in the bee hind gut that digests the undigested enzymes of the pollen coat, and the other waste materials in the hind gut. There’s a few species that have they make a bio-film inside the ilium [SP], which is between the stomach and the rectum right here. And then the crop right here, and mid gut are very inhospitable to bacteria. Very few bacteria in either the crop or the true stomach. And the reason for this is that the nectar coming in is just full of micros, it’s full of yeast from many. It’s full of bacteria, full of a lot of things that would rapidly degrade Degrade that nectar, before it could be made into honey. Or, actually make the bees get sick. So, when the bees, the foragers take the nectar into their crop, they want to kill most all the bacteria and the yeast in the crop. And then when they pass it to the mid-age bees in the hive, they continue that process, filtering out anything that’s in there with their pro-ventricular valve. And then when they dis-corage [SP] that it comes out cleaner, more microbe free.
There also are a couple of them that live in the Hypopharyngeal Glands that are adapted for the high Asamodic [SP] honey, and “jelly”. So these two  species right here, Lactobacillius Kunkeei and Parasoccharibateria, which is this was the OT until last year, and now it has a name. The name by Kirk Anderson’s lab. Both of these, this one is found in the “jelly” inside the Hypopharyngeal Glands, very well adapted with the bees. And it confers immunity to the larvae, helps to clean up honey.
And helps in the process of preserving the beebread. Also, the Lactobacillius Kunkeei is the main one that’s involved in beebread. But it’s not, these two  do not come from the bee’s gut at all. They come from either the environment, from the flowers, this one here, Gilliamella Apicola [SP], or are passed from the “nurse bees” to the larvae by feeding.
So, let’s look at this process of the transition of fresh pollen right here to the beebread where they pack the air out, and they put a little bit of honey over there, they’re allowed to ferment. The pollen is packed; it is brought in by for foragers, scrapped off their legs loose into the cells. The forager leaves, a mid-age bee comes in, the forager is already added some nectar to make it stick to their legs, if they need to. The mid-age bee adds more nectar to that, and takes their head and packs it down, packs all of the oxygen out of there. And puts it down in layers, so it may be one species, it may be several species of pollen in there, and then caps it over with honey. To exclude the, or slow down the transfer of oxygen. And then things start happening here. This Fermentation Process.
Beebread Bacterial Abundance Over Time
This is data from Kirk; these are the number of bacteria per gram of beebread over time. From the fresh pollen come in, less than twenty-four  hours and up to ninety-six  hours. And what you can see is the bacteria, mainly Lactobacillius Kunkeei just explode in the first [1st] two  days in there. Lactobacillius Kunkeei feeds on the fructose, it doesn’t feed on pollen at all, it feeds on the fructose that the “nurse bees” add to the pollen. And converts the fructose into Lactate Acid. The Lactate Acid kills all those beds competitors. And eventually shuts down Lactobacillius Kunkeei, it goes into dormant state, and now it just waits in the state, in this beebread.
When the bees later then take that beebread into their crop, add fresh nectar to it, it dilutes it, the Lactobacillus Kunkeei can be reactivated and ready to start growing again. So, this is all part of this Processing of the bees using the Lactide Acid Fermentation, the High Sugar Content, and the addition of Preservatives, the Glucose Oxidate [SP] from their saliva. Same that we do for making “jelly” or pickles for that, it’s the same kind of Biological way of preserving foods. So, we’ve got nothing on the bees, they were doing it long before humans were learning how to preserve foods.
But you can see, this is the bacteria then drop off by ninety-six  hours till almost nothing is in there.
Not every being willing to believe anybody at face value, I check things out myself. So, I took beebread, and put it under a scope, and look at it. And sure enough, in mature beebread there’s almost no fungi or bacteria on it at all. You don’t take my word for it; it’s really easy to do with a scope. You just go out and take a look at it.
Kirk sent me a Scanning Electric Micro-Graph of this. The orange or the pink stuff is dried; you have to dry things to do an Electro Micro Graph. So this is the dried nectar, the sugars that are in there. But you can see there’s no bacteria growing on this pollen right here.
As opposed to this, which is taken from the bee’s hind gut, and you can see the bacteria growing all over the pollen grains. So, in beebread you don’t have the bacteria growing on it. You do on hind gut.
Bee Feeding Preference Of Stored Pollen
Now the second [2nd] thing that Kirk looked at is, well, if the digestion of pollen was dependent upon the fermentation, then the “nurse bees” would prefer to eat “aged pollen” that was fully digested. So, they went out to a whole bunch of colonies, pulled out one  frame from each colony at over three  months. And they repeated it again; they have lots of reference material. Kirk is a really good scientist. And they put a plastic sheet over each frame, and marked every frame with pollen in it. Every cell with pollen in it, and would go back every day, and they could track the consumption of that pollen, over time.
And what they found is that most of the pollen in these colonies, at that time of year, was in the old stored pollen. But as far as relative consumption, the bees much preferred to eat the fresh pollen. He couldn’t tell about the first [1st] day’s incoming pollen, cause no time to mark it. So, he doesn’t know how much of the pollen, the incoming pollen is eaten in the first [1st] day, before it ever starts fermenting. My guess is it’s probably quite a bit. But, as the pollen aged, and became less and less attractive to the “nurse bees”. So, this did not support the Digestive Hypothesis [SP] either. And again, I was curious about that. So, I took some beebread, and diluted it with a little bit of sugar syrup, and put it on my kitchen counter for ten  days, and let it just ferment like crazy. And sure enough, all these gray things, these are yeast, just growing like crazy inside there. So, man, the yeast just grows like crazy.
And here are some other. This actually is not pollen, this, I’m not sure if this is pollen or, no, I guess it is, that is another pollen. But look at the yeast just growing like crazy in that fermented pollen right there.
Yeast Abundance Over Time
So, Kirk then looked at the yeast. This is the Yeast Abundance Over Time. Zero  to twenty-four  hours. Twenty-four  to twenty-eight . And up to ninety-six . And the yeast also spike along with Lactobacillus Kunkeei, until the Lactic Acid suppresses them.
Notice that this completely overlaps with the bee preference for consumption. Bees a pair, and the “nurse bees” kind of like that yeasty taste or smell.
So, Kirk took the next step, and he analyzed the Vapors coming off of the fermented beebread. This, I don’t think this has been published yet by anybody. So this is one to two [1 to 2] day old, and he reversed these two  spikes from the Gas-Chroma-Graph here. So, a Spike means, as you put this material through the machine, it heats it up, and then it has to go through a medium. And then, as each chemical comes out, it separates them into each different chemical. So, each one  of these Spikes is some chemical odor coming out. So, for the Fresh Stored Pollen, you see there’s a lot of Spikes at one  to two  day old. As, when the pollen is older, there’s much less of the aroma. So, imagine, those of you who have ever made beer, or fresh fermented pickles, you know that that fermentation smell kind of makes your mouth water. Well, apparently it does the same thing for the “nurse bees” too. So, it could be a Nutritional Benefit from the yeast, eating the sugars in the beebread. But not the Protein, they’re not getting the protein out of there.
So, we’re not, I’m not saying, and Kirk’s not saying that there’s no Nutritional Benefit from the fermentation. But that it’s not necessary to get the protein out of there.
Pollen Grain Digestion
And, so then I did another test, also, and Kirk did this also. But I think my photographs are better. So, these are Pollen Grains, after I left it sit on the kitchen counter for many, for ten  days. And what you notice, those Pollen Grains are completely intact, all the protein is still inside them, after ten  days of vigorous fermentation on the kitchen. Compare that with the Pollen Grains, after they’ve been in the – in a “nurse bee”, gone through the “nurse bee’s” digestive tract, and most all of them are emptied out. So, “nurse bees” can very easily, within a number of hours, completely digest the pollen.
Bacteria given ten  days, with a fermentation, can’t touch them. So, the end result was, it’s not for nutrition, it’s for preservation.
So, those of you who have spent a lot of, I know [Inaudible] has, but a number of beekeepers have spent a lot of time and effort fermenting artificial diets, to try to improve them. I’m not sure how much more effort should be spent on that.