Gardening to Distraction: Mummie bees?

May 20, 2013

Editor’s Note:  The following article further demonstrates that bee health decline issues do not have a single cause.  USDA scientists have made clear “that a complex set of stressors and pathogens is associated with CCD…”  Chalkbrood, a fungal disease, is one of the many ills affecting bees.




By Charlotte Wiggins


It sounds like a bad movie, doesn’t it? Honeybees that turn into mummies.


There’s actually a fungus that turns bee larvae into hard, white lumps. The little bodies resemble chalk, which is where the condition, first identified in Europe, got its name.


One of my new hives had “chalkbrood” symptoms last year, little dead white or grey bodies found on the front porch of the hive. I found more this year and, after opening the hive to inspect each frame, spent a good hour spearing little white bodies out of the comb with a long pin to help bees clean up the hive right before the “honey flow” starts at end of May.


May is a busy time for both beekeepers and honeybees. Bee colonies are busy raising babies so they will have enough honeybees to gather pollen over summer. Beekeepers are watching hives closely, making sure bees are increasing their numbers without any problems or diseases.


Although honeybees have been around for millions of years, their numbers have been declining precipitously in the U.S. since 2004. One out of every three bites of healthy food we eat is pollinated by bees but half of all U.S. honeybee hives died last year.


Causes are still under investigation but are generally lumped under “colony collapse disorder.” The latest science suggests honeybees exposed to nicotinoid pesticides and insecticides make them disoriented so they can’t find their way home.


Chalkbrood, a fungal disease, is one of the lesser conditions to affect hives but, according to University Extension experts, appears to be on the rise.


The condition can be triggered when the causative agent, Ascophaera apis, is exposed to high moisture content, which can happen when a hive is not well ventilated in high humidity situations; or the hive is exposed to cool temperatures, or perhaps the colony is stressed from lack of food. In my book, that means no one really knows for sure.


There is no recommended chemical treatment for chalkbrood; it won’t kill a colony but it will make it weaker so they don’t increase in enough numbers to collect pollen they need.


My mentor said to close the hive entrance to half the opening so bees don’t have to worry about guarding the hive and see if they can take care of the problem themselves.


Ironically enough, beekeepers tend to spread the fungus on their shoes and tools. I cleaned my hive tool with fire out of the smoker, washed my shoes and gave the colony some protein to help them re-build.


I’ll know things are getting better as less little chalk-like bodies show up on the hive porch.

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