The Science Behind Natural Beekeeping

For those interested in the science behind natural, or near-natural, beekeeping there are increasing numbers of published papers available to read. Thanks are due to Dr. David Heaf who has kindly prepared a comprehensive list of them, along with their abstracts, which you can download here.

The topics covered include:

  • Colony density and the lesson from ferals
  • Bees can co-adapt with Varroa, and/or develop tolerance to Varroa and its vectored viruses
  • Pesticide residues including acaricides (miticides) in brood comb, beeswax, foundation etc.
  • Toxicity of acaricides used against Varroa
  • Feral nest structure and criteria for nest selection by swarms
  • Advantage of intracolonial genetic diversity obtained through plentiful drone populations enabling
  • adequate multiple mating and consequent fitness
  • Role of drones in nest thermoregulation
  • Importance of species-specific behaviours, e.g. ‘social immunity’, in disease resistance
  • Hive magnetic materials and ambient electromagnetic radiation
  • Pheromone integrity and distribution
  • Pollen nutrition and diversity
  • Regulation of temperature and humidity
  • Suppression of reproductive swarming and associated beekeeping practices may adversely affect bee
  • health
  • Foul brood incidence is higher in managed colonies compared with ferals
  • Comb with small cell foundation is ineffective against Varroa
  • Mesh floors – pros and cons as regards Varroa elimination
  • Queen production, mating, artificial insemination and physiology
  • Queen breeding, genetic diversity and local adaptation
  • Beneficial bacteria versus pathogens
  • Presence of organic acids in the hive atmosphere (cf. Johann Thür’s Nestduftwärmebindung – retention of nest scent and heat)
  • Swarm lures and bait hives for swarm management where swarm suppression is not practised
  • Effect of feeding sugar or not feeding honey; role of self-medication
  • Comb as a vibration communication medium

There are no papers devoted specifically to natural comb. However, some of the topics covered are relevant to natural comb tangentially:

  • Feral nests have about 17% drone cells whereas only worker foundation is commonly used;

  • Worker cell sizes in natural comb range from about 4.6 to 5.6 mm whereas foundation has a uniform size;

  • Recycled beeswax in foundation contains pesticides;

  • Natural comb provides a free hanging medium for vibration communication whereas wired foundation in frames dampens the vibrations.

Natural comb is usually fixed in its full width at the top of the cavity and part way down at the edges, whereas framed combs have gaps across the top and down the sides. This undermines Nestduftwärmebindung (retention of nest scent and heat).

Exploitation Beekeeping vs Natural Beekeeping

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The average tree nest of the honey bee

Seeley & Morse, 1976.