A bee disease that looks like some kind of extra-terrestrial plague is the worst thing ever.

I had a nightmare a few weeks ago that I may have mentioned already. I dreamt that my entire beekeeper club got American Foulbrood (AFB) and had to burn all their hives. I checked mine and my hive did not have it, but when I wasn’t looking, the bee hive inspectors killed my bees and burned the hive anyway.

This month’s meeting thankfully involved listening to speaker Paul Cappy teach us how to check our hives for American Foulbrood. AFB is a somewhat rare disease that greatly contributes to colony collapse disorder. Like varroa mites, the disease kills the whole hive and it can’t be saved. In order to save the other hives and make sure it doesn’t spread, you have to kill all your bees (if they’re not dead already) and burn all your equipment. Apparently, you can scorch the inside of your boxes and not have to burn the whole thing.
Cappy showed us slides of AFB, which looks like a caramel-like booger. Since I’ve been watching Stranger Things [spoiler alert], it looks a lot like Dart’s weird skin he peels off when he grows larger.

Netflix’s Stranger Things

🙁 Here’s the caramel booger of sadness. Seen here is what they call “roping” which is what the weird extraterrestrial-like goo looks like when you pull it out of a cell. This is the remains of a larva who got American Foulbrood and died prematurely. It seriously feels like something out of Stranger Things.
So if anyone asks “what’s causing colony collapse disorder?” We know that it’s a lot of things combined, but American Foulbrood is one of them. The disease is not so common up here at all. According to Cappy, a former hive inspector who seemed to me like the angel-queen-geek of beekeeping, there were over 400 cases in New York State in 2001, which is approximately 8.6% of hives. In 2010, the numbers dropped to about .8%, but cases have risen from 15 last year to 70 cases this year. The state thinks this increase is due to an inability to detect AFB in hives. Apparently, it’s very difficult even though there are so many indicators, including smell!
In order to check for AFB, you need to hold the frame so that the top bar is against you and the sun is behind you (to illuminate the cells in the frame) and check for the following signs: Sunken, perforated, or discolored cells.
If a cell is perforated, it means that a bee thinks there is something wrong and the bee opens up the cell to check on it. Cappy told us that some bees have adapted to do this with varroa mites. They open up the cell a bit, remove the varroa mites, kill them, and kick them out of the hive without harming the larvae. Sounds nuts. I want those bees. They sound like superheroes. Anyway.
Another identifier late in the game is scale. Scale is what happens when larvae have died, past the caramel booger stage, and have turned into a black slime which hardens inside of the cell and cannot be scraped out (other diseases will scrape out easily). Seriously, you guys. This is some upside-down-type shit. It’s horrifying.
Another thing to note is that the queen won’t lay eggs in a dirty cell, so if you don’t see any eggs or larvae, you may have AFB.
AFB is my worst nightmare, literally. Whenever I talk to other beekeepers about their bees, they feel the same way. Their bees are their pets. They love their bees. We would never want something that looks like the black plague to kill them off in a brutal, disgusting way, and then have to burn their homes afterwards.
I knew beekeeping was hard when I got into it and that’s why I wanted to do it. It’s hard and it’s very important. Even though all these horrible diseases and pesticides and mites are killing the bees, we need to fight back and help take care of them. They are the reason we have food and the reason other animals have food. They are so important to our environment. They create new species of plants with cross pollination (not kidding). They’re really, really fucking cool.
What was so interesting was that since this is a spore-producing disease, I immediately decided it had to be fungal, but Cappy explained that it’s a spore-producing bacteria which is also why antibiotics have largely helped stave off American Foulbrood. As good as beekeepers are, they keep their antibiotic use to a minimum and only when absolutely necessary as a preventative. Strangely, it only works as a preventative and not as a cure. If you have one spore of AFB, your hive is as good as gone.
The only way you can get preventative bee hive antibiotics is through a veterinarian, which seems strange for some reason. I hadn’t thought of my bees as pets much until this last meeting, but they totally are. We love them, we take care of them, and help them thrive as much as possible. Yeah, you can’t pet them (unless you’re my grandfather), but they gave us more apples, pears, cauliflower, and squash than we’ve ever grown in our lives. SO COOL!
I really love my beekeeping club. I feel like I really belong there. Most everyone is nice and helpful. A lot of the same people come every week. We’re all at different stages of our lives and different stages of beekeeping. Women and men are both equally represented. We’re all there to learn and grow from each other. So far, there hasn’t been any show of disrespect. 🙂 It makes me happy and I learn so much. I can’t wait for the next meeting!

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for updates.
Related Content: