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Mites

Frank mentioned removing mites with a ‘large stainless steel colander’.  The best colander is not just any colander.  More about this later, but first, lets back up a little and I will explain my rationale for removing mites. 

Getting rid or removing ALL  mites from cocoons is difficult.  I think the main aim is to remove the majority of mites, so that mason bees have a better chance of producing healthy offspring.  Even if all mites are removed from harvested cocoons, there will be the occasional mite covered wild bee that arrives from within the local wood.  These mites are spread successfully ensuring mites are always around.  The best that anyone can do is to remove the majority of mites from harvested cocoons.  This give mason bees a better chance in producing healthy offspring rather then mites.

Washing with water, removes adhering frass and the majority of loose mites.  After washing, there are still lots of mites in amongst the threads of the cocoon.

These mites are best removed by friction.  I have found the most successful way to remove these mites is to gently roll them over a  METAL window screen stapled to a frame.  Another way is to gently roll them around colander with a metal screen (NOT PLASTIC, NOT STAINLESS).  Plastic and stainless steel do not have the abrasive quality of metal screen.

This can be done in two stages.  First wash with the appropriate colander under and in running water.  Second, when cocoons are dry, roll them over another screen to get the remaining mites off.

Frank M. wrote
“This year I switched to the “dry sand” method of cleaning as developed by Gord Hutchings, to test it.  The group seemed to like it, mainly because there was no waiting time for the cocoons to dry.  I added a step that Gordon does not do — after thorough scouring with sand, we put the cocoons into a large flat-bottomed stainless steel screen and gently agitated it over a vacuum cleaner hose nozzle.  This helped to remove additional mites, frass and bits of mud still adhering to the cocoons.  The one thing I don’t like about the dry method is that although it seems to do a pretty good job of removing mites, it does little to remove the frass, so the cocoons don’t look “clean”.  But I reason that the frass doesn’t matter to the emerging bees, whereas the mites matter a great deal.  Do you agree?”
I think it is wonderful that people are experimenting with ideas developed to manage mason bees better.  Here are my thoughts.
Cleaning cocoons and the method you use is a personal choice and it depends on what outcome you want.  I still use the cold water method with an optional bleach wash.  Although there is a 1-2 hour drying time needed to completely dry cocoons I still prefer the water washing method for two reasons.

Washing with water, removes all frass and most mites.  The removal of frass is an important part of the cleaning process because it allows cocoons to be candled.  Successful candling can only be done with clean cocoons.  I want to make sure that cocoons parasitized with little wasps don’t end up in the cocoons that I sell or place out for production.   

The other reason why frass should be removed, and the water method of washing does it well, is that the presence of frass makes it more difficult to remove any adhering mites.  After washing cocoons and then drying them, most of the remaining mites are removed by gently rolling cocoons over a metal screen. Frass would impede this process.

Mites are pests for mason bees.  Bees carry them from their old nest to their new nests, and then mites compete for food with the young developing bees.  Mostly, if mites get into a cell with a developing bee and its pollen lump, mites will be the end result- not a bee. 

Because mites on the surface of cocoons are waiting to be transported to a new nest by the emerging bee, it is imperative to get rid of most, if not all surface mites.  Washing will remove the majority or mites.  Rolling cocoons over a metal screen will remove the majority of the remaining mites.

Further reading on mite control  ______________
A great DVD on How to _________________

Here are a few pictures of

Mites are transported by bees from the old nest to the new.

Mites travel within the nesting tunnel to a cocoon
Mites under a microscope

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