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Monthly Archives: February 2012

A comment on this blog asked for more pictures on candling cocoons. 

Just today I candled 4000 cocoons.  It seems like an awful lot, but when they are in  petri dishes it is easy to do candle them- about 30 mins or so.  I did see some duds that are of some interest.  I call anything that is not a fully developed bee a ‘dud’.  The percent ‘duds’ in this batch was 2.5%.  Anything under 5% is excellent.  But even with 107 duds there are some interesting ones.  Few had fully developed parasitic wasps- ready to emerge in spring.  Others were bee larvae that had not completed development into an adult. In the next day or so I will take some photos and put them on this blog.

I was teaching a group of people about candling the other day.  It is a straight forward procedure but the conditions have to be right.  The room that you do the candling in has to be completely dark- a bathroom without a window for example.  Any extra light besides the flashlight is too much light and you cannot candle the cocoons.

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.

Beediverse Products are at the show!  We are at Booth 2352. Jim Tunnell owner of Beez Neez has all our products!  Come and say hello.  You will recognize them with our new T-shirts! I love mason bees!    All products shown below are available at this years show- including cardboard nesting tubes, and Quicklock nesting trays.  Have a great time at the show.

You will recognize Jim’s staff
with this great T-shirt.

  




The beautiful Royal Bee home
Viewing box for seeing bees at work!
Our largest mason bee home ‘Highrise’



Chalet with predator guard



Natural Nesting Reeds-

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.

Here is Frank’s third photo. 

“015 shows channels with healthy cocoons, but I’ve never seen so much bee frass!!  The only part of the cocoons visible in the image is where the cocoon surfaces were tight against the base of the overlying tray. Othewise all the free space around the cocoons is packed with frass.  Have you ever seen the likes of it?”
The Dutch would describe the frass to look like a sandwich spread called Chocolate Hail!  Not as yummy though.
I have on occasion seen frass in these quantities.  I think it means that these bee larvae were well fed and then produced lots of frass or bee feces.  These healthy bees will have the energy to eat their way out of their cocoon and start a successful nest.
Another interesting item  in this photos is those tiny pale blond spots all over the wood and over the cocoons.  These are the pollen feeding mites.  If these mites are not removed, mites wait for the bee to open the cocoon, the mite sneaks in and attaches itself to the bee- to set up house in the next nest.
Here is Frank’s photo number 017 
It shows a wooden tray infested with foreign larvae, plus at least four different-looking types of wiry frass.  Are they all from the same insect and  reflect differences in diet, or might they actually represent different organisms?”
The upper channel possibly contains the pupae of the houdini fly.  The lower channel has 3 chambers with wiry frass that probably belongs to the spider beetle.
Lovely photos Frank.  Sorry we could not be more clear on the ID of these insects.  Let me know if you have placed them in a petri dish to develop into full adult.

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