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Apprentice beekeeper stumbles on solution to disease wreaking havoc in Alice Springs


Apprentice beekeeper stumbles on solution to disease wreaking havoc in Alice Springs

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Updated yesterday at 1:47pm

A novice beekeeper in Alice Springs has stumbled upon a solution to a disease that has been devastating Red Centre hives.

Last month ABC Rural reported on chalkbrood disease.

At the time the most experienced apiarist in Alice Springs, Russell Wilson, reported that his honey yield had been cut by 80 per cent and that the CSIRO had been involved to identify the problem.

It turns out that Mr Wilson's apprentice Marita Thompson has almost eradicated chalkbrood throughout her hives after only three months experience caring for bees.

Chalkbrood is a disease caused by a fungus and results in mummified bee larvae.

"Bee-eater birds were eating my bees and we had found chalkbrood at the front of the hives," she said.

"One night I thought bugger the birds and I put the bees in the chook pen.

"I didn't think anymore of it but then noticed over a few weeks that I was getting very little chalkbrood."

Ms Thompson said she was also feeding the bees frozen and unpeeled bananas coated with icing sugar.

She said she put her chalkbrood reduction down to putting the bees in the chook pen and feeding them bananas.

A close shot of small chalky white and black capsules that are covered bee larvae.

"The bees are undercover and the chooks are eating the chalkbrood," she said.

"With the bananas I believe they help the bees like an antibiotic but I am only assuming as I don't have any technical background regarding it."

Northern Territory Government biosecurity officer Vicki Simlesa said “bananas release methane when breaking down which in turn could be interfering with the chalkbrood process."

"Bananas are known as fruit not to take on a long journey as they break down easily and emit gas that causes other organic matter to deteriorate," she said.

"In addition -  and it could be combination of both -, when the bees eat the banana skin they increase their protein intake which boosts up immunity and general health." 

Ms Simlesa has previously told ABC Rural that chalkbrood is spread by drone bees from other hives and can be controlled by reducing stress and improving hygiene and nutrition.

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Replies to This Discussion

"Feeding" them bananas - bees can't "eat" banana.

I think she must be referring to the icing sugar coating. The banana methane would be there as another element.

This is quite strange. Who would have thought that putting bees in with chooks would do anything positive? And sugar coated frozen bananas? No wonder that this has not been discovered before. Of course I blame the CSIRO for not coming up with this before now.

Call me a sceptic but this all sounds a bit odd to me. Has any official source given credence to this yet. I will have to do some reading when I get a chance. Is it OK to give Bees Refined Sugar?  


It's not generally accepted among the stingless beekeepers to give bees refined white sugar solution. At best it keeps them alive but not thriving.

Just because someone in authority didn't think of it first doesn't rule out the solution to this problem though. There are people who do not benefit from the sale of this and that who will tell you that xyz does not work when from my own knowledge 'it' does.

A lot depends on context: who will benefit? Who thought of it first?

The frozen bananas with icing sugar (very fine white refined sugar) sound weird. Bees have only tongues for licking and what they could lick from a frozen banana is beyond me. But I wouldn't rule out some symbiosis between the bees and the chooks. There is just so much we do not know.

I can accept that the chooks having something to do with the solution. I am all for, the perhaps unknown affects, of a symbiotic relationship between the chooks and the bees.

I think the journalist has taken some poetic licence. Perhaps they were desperate for some bee news, any bee news, out of Alice Springs.


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