I’d been following the research conducted on the recent spat of colony collapse disorder(CCD). Some of it includes looking at the composition of symbiotic micro organisms inside the bee’s digestive system. When I saw a Beesource discussion, about the possibility of probiotics enabling bees to resist disease, it knocked me off my chair because using probiotics has profoundly affected my health. You can read about it on my Kombucha Experience page.
Probiotics and Bees?
If human health can get so far out of wack by lacking what probiotics re-establishes, I suspect a similar process could impact the honeybee’s health. Honeybees are self-propelled, electrically charged, environmental samplers. They get into lots of places I don’t. They have simple immune systems. Their broodnest is a chemical sink. And Lactobacillus based fermentation is a key element of bee nutrition/food preparation.
I suspect that they might be more at risk from a probiotic imbalance than I am.
Is it natural?
Natural beekeeping is much more than just leaving the bees to themselves. It’s a pro active way to intelligently keep bees, knowing when to intercede and when to stay out. In a natural environment, bees would be exposed to all the probiotic critters. And they could establish, maintain or replenish those they need. But that might not be the case today. Something in our environment could interrupt of defeat that process, even if we keep chemicals and drugs out of our hives. Using probiotics might restore something man could inadvertently taken out. Is that important?
Looking at Michael Bush’s post #12, at the Beesource link above, the symbiotic microbial relationships that exist in a honeybee, aren’t as simple as they seem. In fact, they may be even more important to a simple creature like a honeybee, than they are for a more complex creature like myself. Exposing bees to probiotics wouldn’t introduce anything new into the honeybee’s natural environment. Would it be beneficial? I don’t know. It has the potential. But it shouldn’t do any harm.
Tim Hall, another Beesource contributor, suggests that protecting a hive’s environment, so symbiotic microbial relations can exist, could be important. I agree. When feeding bees, some beekeepers add bleach to the sugar syrup extending it’s shelf life. Some also use bleach as a hive disinfectant. Although it doesn’t kill the bees, I suspect in might have some long term negative effects.
Probiotics, What Kind?
So, just what kind of probiotics would benefit the bees?. I don’t know. And I don’t think anyone else does either. It could be a fertile field of investigation for the budding bee PhD candidate. I suspect a look at the fermentations that’s used to preserve pollen would be a start. Another area might focus on bee digestion.
Sorry, not much information here. You could be the one who opens the door!
What’s a beekeeper to do?
First, and most important, protect and preserve those relationship that naturally exist in the hive. Don’t add or treat with anything that might upset or destroy them.
Second, get smart in this area. Follow the latest research and see how it might apply. Could a probiotic be generated from bee bread?
After my experience with small cell and then natural comb, I know how seemly insignificantly small changes can greatly affect honeybee health. Inoculating a hive with probiotics would be easy. It’s a must do test for me. And after giving the bees some probiotics, I could imbibe a little for myself. If it doesn’t do much for them, I know it will benefit me. 😉
I’ll let you know how things go.
And I must thank Baithe for starting the probiotic thread on Beesource. As important as probiotics have been to my health, I would never have thought about their possible benefit to the bees.
My Own Little Test
In the early spring, I grade my hives strong, average, below average, weak. This year, I sprayed the below average hives with slightly diluted, about 30%, solution of overly ripe kombucha. It was probably about 3 weeks old.
The spraying was done incidentally, without any planning, etc., just to watch the first reaction of the bees. After spraying, the below average hives were left alone, without any more manipulation or observations.The kombucha worked better than smoke for controlling the bees in a normal situation.
To check the yard’s progress, I’d pop the covers off a couple of strong hives and a couple of weak hives every few weeks. Ten weeks later, I popped the covers off the below average hives and found they had a full super of honey, while all the others, even those with larger bee populations had none. In fact, they hadn’t even entered the supers.
I was quite surprised to say the least! And I’d had forgotten about the incidental kombucha spraying until looking at my notes a week later.
To say it was a test is probably a stretch. But the observations are interesting none the less.
It was a shot in the dark, as nothing is known about those complex relationships in a bee. But as all life is related. And as it’s more similar in need and function than it is different. Kombucha was my best first guess.
Few beekeepers will admit that honeybees can be found sipping up their own probiotic drink at the base of a compost or manure pile. And that they often prefer it to a clean water source located nearby. Just where do all those antibiotics, herbicides and pesticides used in modern agriculture end up anyway? Could it be that some compound, now found in the bees natural probiotic drink, is deleterious to their health?
I thought about this regarding a probiotic source. But something about our concept of pure and natural/hive/honey gets in the way. Somehow, I found it more appropriate to introduce Kombucha into a hive rather than compost/manure tea. 🙂
We’ll all know more when the ARS folks get into the details.