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Archive for November, 2012

Mason bee at work.

I finally made some time to check on my mason bee cocoons a few weeks back. Mason bees are native stinger-less bees that live solitarily (not in a hive). They are great pollinators, and like most bees, need some support from the human community so that they can stay off the endangered species list. Back in the spring, I put out a bee house and some cocoons that I had purchased. The cocoons hatched readily.

For the next month, the kids and I watched the female bees return to the bee house to fill our cocoons tubes with mud and eggs. After letting them mature in the bee house for a few weeks, we moved the tubes indoors to prevent predators and parasites like birds and wasps from destroying our larvae. If we do this properly, the larvae will grow, metamorphose and hibernate until spring.

Opening the tubes reveals cocoons. So good so far!

The local bee guru who provided me with last year’s cocoons recommended opening the tubes and storing the cocoons someplace cold for winter. Opening the tubes gives you an insight into how many eggs were laid, how may male and female cocoons you have, and if there have been any problems.

Inside the first few tubes, things were looking great. A nice mix of male and female cocoons, properly formed.

The female (larger) and male (smaller) cocoons.

Then I opened a tube that had a dead worm-looking thing in it. I should have stopped there to figure out what I had in my tubes. Alas, I kept opening the tubes. I found more of the worms, and more normal cocoons. I left everything in a Tupperware, mixed together. Then, I emailed the bee guru, who responded,

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

Fossilized larvae among the mud.

Turns out that I didn’t have worms in my tubs, I had fossilized bee larvae, victims of a spore called “Foulbrood.” The good news is, it’s species specific, so my honey bees aren’t at risk. The bad news is, it’s a spore that gets everywhere. So, by mixing the dead larvae with the cocoons, I contaminated them. The bee guru recommended soaking the cocoons in a dilute bleach solution and hoping for the best, which I have done. I also have to sterilize the bee house with bleach and dump the leftover tubes instead of reusing them. So, once the holiday rush is over and I start dreaming of spring, I’ll bust out the bleach and get that little house cleaned up. Then we’ll see if any of those cocoons survived the bleach bath!

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