On mystery B.C. hive disease and California almonds

It’s heading on to mid-Feburary, and already there seems to be trouble brewing for beekeepers, not the least in California, where there is now a reported shortage of hives for the almond pollination season.
In British Columbia, the situation is also a little confusing. Last week I filed a report to the B.C. Honey Producers Association for their quarterly BeeScene, in which Paul van Westendorp, the provincial apiculturalist, suggested he’s got a small mystery on his hands.
van Westendorp says a growing number of beekeepers have reported cases of disappearing bees, coupled with large amounts of fecal staining on their hives. Yet when samples of dead bees or fecal matter have been tested at the provincial lab in Abbotsford, they almost invariably show no detectable signs of nosema, which would normally be considered the culprit.
Jaquie Bunse, the provincial bee inspector for Greater Vancouver, Fraser Valley and Squamish-Pemberton alerted me to this problem in mid-January. She said she’d collected samples from a number of established operations in recent weeks and was beginning to get reports of more trouble. The beekeepers reporting the problem ranged from large commercial operations to hobbyists with a few colonies.
In the last six weeks or so van Westendorp has processed more than two dozen samples, including two large lots from the Fraser Valley and Garibaldi-Squamish area. All had the same look, wet and sweaty, “just like you would see if they had nosema,” he said. Yet in all but three cases he could detect no nosema. Without wanting to raise alarms, he said it might be a kind of “apian cholera” and that many more tests are going to be required.
van Westendorp said that unlike in the past, he’s now started archiving the samples he’s received so he can test them in future against any viral DNA samples he can obtain. It may be that the underlying cause of the trouble is a virus that wasn’t identified in the initial tests, he said.
However, he said he’s concerned about what may now seem to be a trend this winter of higher-than-normal colony losses. Bunse said she’s also getting more reports of abnormal health in colonies, but deferred to van Westendorp for a better interpretation.
He said it is too early to determine if other parts of the province, which are still deep in winter, have similar problems. He’s also had no reports yet from his counterparts in other provinces.
I’ll keep you posted as I hear more.

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