Local bees not threatened by disease outbreak

Erin Mullins

An outbreak of American Foulbrood (AFB), a devastating honeybee brood disease that weakens and kills honeybee colonies, has been confirmed in a hive in Lincoln County, according to the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA). 

Signs of the disease include sealed brood cells that are discolored and sunken, punctures in brood capping, dead larvae that are black or brown and sticky, black scale that is encrusted tightly to the brood cell or a foul odor. 

Ben Zeller, co-owner at Zeller and Sons Honey Co., says he is not worried that AFB will threaten his colonies. 

“The thing is with foulbrood, it can be inactive in a hive for many, many years, and it doesn’t express itself until the colony gets stressed or weak,” Zeller said. “And then if the colony is stressed or weak, then it’s kind of like having chickenpox and then it turns into…shingles, but it’s not there until you get stressed out. It’s the same with the hives. So, as long as my bees aren’t stressed, that shouldn’t express itself.”

Sources of stress for the bees can include a lack of nectar flow or being relocated, Zeller said.  Every year, Zeller contracts his bees out to almond orchards in California to help pollinate the orchards. To reduce stress, Zeller makes sure his bees have enough food, honey and pollen.

Zeller’s bees have not suffered from AFB in the past.  The colonies have been affected by aerial sprays from pesticide planes that killed some of his bees. He has also accidentally dumped bees during transport and had to put the hives back together. Zeller does not anticipate any sort of disease that will infect his bees.

Zeller is breeding his bees to be more mite and disease resistant by taking the eggs from the queen of the strongest colony of bees and using the drones to breed a hardier stock. This year, Zeller had a good honey output with three times more supply than he needed. The excess honey is sold to a buyer. In the next five years, Zeller expects his bees to continue to have a good output.

Zeller owns about 2,000 bee colonies in 100 different locations spread out from the Bighorn Mountains to Cody. Just like another type of farm animal, bees require constant upkeep, Zeller said. Duties include attending to the bees, giving them water and making sure they can forage or have access to food. 

Zeller’s favorite part of beekeeping is working during the spring. 

“In the springtime, when everything’s starting to bloom and the bees are all happy and we’re making splits and building up numbers, grafting and making new greens, it’s fun. It’s an exciting time,” he said. 

The WDA encourages beekeepers to check their colonies for AFB. If AFB is found, beekeepers should contact the WDA or submit samples to the United States Department of Agriculture Bee
Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.