Friday, August 11, 2017

Healthy Colony Checklist

Simplifying Inspections to Maximize Results


Apiculture and the global bee population have seen an ever increasing variety of threats over the past 10 years. Although current bee populations in the US have recovered following several years of significant colony losses, the annual losses continue to be above a sustainable level. Significant resources are required for restoring populations, especially from commercial beekeepers. Though it is widely debated, causes of the colony losses may include, but are not limited to: pathogens, varroa mites, management practices that fail to adapt to changing conditions, irresponsible chemical use in the hive and its surrounding environment, genetically modified crops, and changes in global temperature (Ellis, 2007). 

With the unusual conditions of collapsing hives during the winter of 2006, beekeepers and researchers alike have been searching for answers and a better understanding of the factors affecting honey bee mortality. 

Though questions remain and unusual occurrences continue to surface, research and experience both support the notion that a measurable reduction in colony losses can be achieved through management practices that are within the control of the beekeeper.

The Significance 

A recent study from 2014­-2015 by the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP), which collects survey data and correlates for annual losses, found summer colony losses eclipsed winter losses for commercial beekeepers, which disagrees with the usual trend of loss (Steinhauer, et al., 2015). BIP looks for correlations between management practices and colony loss and has found significant differences in losses for several common management practices, such as the use of varroa control products. 

Below is a summary of total overwintering colony losses in the United States across eleven years of conducting the winter loss survey and across six years of conducting the summer annual loss survey. (, 2017)

The Opportunity 

In addition to the issue of declining bee populations, beekeepers and growers of pollinated crops struggle to know the best courses of action to optimize productivity for their bees and crops. Beekeepers and pollination dependent farmers need the knowledge to better manage their colonies and crops to optimize both the economic return by understanding the true cost of beekeeping and the best management practices to better understand the efficacy and impact of various management practices. 

Simplifying Inspections to Maximize Results

Dick Rogers, entomologist, apiologist, and lead researcher for Bayer's North American Bee Health program states, "To efficiently and effectively protect and improve colony health, it is now essential to monitor colonies more frequently, even as often as weekly. A method for weekly colony assessments needs to be easy to use, fast, thorough, and yield observations that are meaningful and easy to interpret for practical management decision ­making by apiarists, apiculturists, and apiologists." 

Rogers suggests that the three questions you need answered by the end of a quick colony inspection, are:

1. Is the colony healthy?
2. If not, why?
3. What needs to be done to fix the problem?

Expanding on this simple high level description which captures the basics of a healthy colony, Rogers (2017) details six major indicators or inspection items that largely describe the present state oa hive, which he coined as the "Healthy Colony Checklist". 

The framework proposed by Rogers in the Healthy Colony Checklist provides the infrastructure for a standardized set of guidelines for beekeepers to follow when inspecting hives. 

How You Can Help

Hive Tracks' is inviting all beekeepers to participate as a citizen scientist to help address issues important to the honey bee.
Hive Tracks' online beekeeping platform modernizes your beekeeping processes by keeping track of data, observations, and your equipment inventory. Founded by and continuously partnering with scientists engaged in cutting-edge academic honey bee and analytics research, Hive Tracks is currently working to create a standard data platform for global bee record management that allows for the consistent and reliable data collection across all levels of beekeeping.

Data from across multiple locations, crops and forage locations will be analyzed using Big Data analytical techniques that allow for the analysis and understanding of relationships in beekeeping and agriculture in order to understand best management practices.

Sign up for a Hive Tracks' account ( and begin tracking your bees. Use the Healthy Colony Checklist on the "Hives" page to record your inspections.

Hive Tracks' large reservoir of data and information will be meticulously analyzed to understand the best management practices of beekeeping. 

As Hive Tracks continue to understand the correlation between best management practices and healthy hives, we will be able to build a ubiquitous platform that will help you, as a beekeeper, know your bees.

Blog, May 25 2017 •. "2016­-2017 Loss Results: Thank You to All Survey Participants!" 2016­-2017 Loss Results: Thank You to All Survey Participants! Bee Informed Partnership, 25 May 2017. Web. 08 June
Ellis, James. (2007). Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in Honey Bees. Retrieved February 21, 2016, from 
Rogers, R. (2017). Healthy Colony Checklist. Bayer CropScience­colony­checklist 
Steinhauer, N., et al(2015, May 13). Colony Loss 2014­2015: Preliminary Results . Retrieved Februar24, 2016, from­loss­2014­2015­preliminary­results/2017. 
Wilkes, J., Cazier, J., Moody, G. "Electronic Data Collection and Sensor Integration for Data Aggregation, Best Management Practices, Data Mining and Smart Hive Development" Project Apis m Healthy Hives 2020 Grant Proposal. March 1, 2016.