Dysentery is more of a disorder than a disease as there seems to be no causative organism. It is where the gut fills with more fluid than the bee can handle and the primary sign or symptom is when the fronts of the hives and sometimes even the insides of the hives are all spattered with skittery bee crap.
It has various causes:
- Poor quality winter food such as insufficiently ripened, or ‘wet’ honey;
- Granulated honey. In winter, the physical properties of granulated honey can lead to a situation where the individual crystals are surrounded by liquid honey which is very much wetter than it otherwise would be.
In both these cases, if the moisture content of the available stores rises above 20% the honey can start to ferment and the presence of yeasts and other fungi could be a contributory factor to dysentery. Either way, there is a build-up of fluid in the gut as in an upset stomach – like if you were to eat too much of something your body wanted rid of quickly.
Another cause of dysentery is stress. Sometimes, in cases of queen failure or if you split a colony and one half is weak you will find signs of what looks like dysentery – or am I wrong there… any of you Bots or Crawlers out there like to put me right on that one?
Signs or Symptoms
In winter or otherwise foul weather, because the bees cannot get out for a crap and because, being clean little creatures, they hold it and they hold it till they’re nearly bursting. Sometimes they’ll just go and do it in the hive and you’ll find it all over the top bars of the frames. Other times, if they manage to hold on till the weather does let them out they’re so full they can hardly fly. This is when we find the front of the hive spattered with bee muck.
Anyway, dysentery is not Nosema but you can see how the former would spread the latter.
There is no treatment as such but there are various things you can do to try and prevent it.
Hooper advises feeding two buckets of strong syrup every autumn, whether the bees need it or not, on the grounds that this will then be stored closest to the centre of the nest and as a consequence will be used before any granulated honey and this will hopefully take them into the spring and better weather. That seems like sound advice to me.
Feeding sugar syrup in the autumn while the bees are working the ivy also has the effect of ‘diluting’ the ivy nectar and preventing it from granulating with as much enthusiasm.
If stress is the cause then, if possible, remove the cause of the stress.
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