Pseudoscorpions, bees and varroa

Pseudoscorpion attacking a varroa mite Photo by Torben Schiffers
Pseudoscorpion attacking a varroa mite Photo by Torben Schiffers

The first time I heard of these creatures was from Jenny and Karen of Ujubee in South Africa. They told of a swarm they were observing that settled beneath a concrete picnic table.

 

Swarm

Whilst filming the bees settling in a cluster around their queen, Jenny & Karen noticed a tiny insect scurrying around the cluster, that the bees seemed to be ushering back in.
On closer inspection, they recognised it as ‘chelifer cancroides’ or commonly known as ‘pseudoscorpion’.
The name is reflected in their tiny pincers and body shape, very similar to its larger namesake.

Once the swarm moved away from the picnic table, they noticed that the pseudoscorpions had also left, carried away by the bees as they don’t fly and no sign of them remaining on the table was evident.

Babylonstoren bees

A few months later I returned to the Cape and was working with the Garden Team at Babylonstoren. They had a very large colony of bees which was ‘bearding’ outside of it’s already expanded hive.

Pseudoscorpion in South Africa

We decided to try and ‘split’ the colony, moving the ‘beard’ and some frames of bees into one of the new ‘Golden Hive’ bait boxes brought over from the UK.
As we were scooping up the bees. I spotted what could only have been a pseudoscorpion. Excitedly I shared the Ujubee story and we watched as the bees ushered the creature back into their cluster as it appeared to make efforts to move away.
This indicates that the bees see a purpose for living with them, even if the insects don’t seem so keen to hang around.

Bees ushering the pseudoscorpion inside the hive

Presuming that these tiny creatures were only to be found in South Africa, I was very surprised to receive a message from an American Beekeeping friend sharing a research document from Torben Schiffer in Hamburg, Germany.

Wax moth as food

Donovan and Paul point out that Chelifers historically lived in hives and so the team researched the living conditions and why they may not be found in hives now.
Chelifers feed off mites, silverfish and larvae of wax moth, and so a bee hive would sound like a perfect habitat. They need to have a safe hiding place to nest and bread, which is usually in hay, straw, tree bark or roughly sawn timber. With the advent of modern beekeeping, hives are made of smoothly sawn wood, with mesh floors, and now an increasing number of Styrofoam hives have meant that their habitat has all but vanished.
The tradition of straw skep bee hives and rough timber wooden boxes has recently seen a revival but without the science to justify what looks like a backwards trend, beekeepers are advised to use the more modern and ‘clean’ hives.

Varroa Mites
Chelifers were found to eat varroa mites, which is an incredible discovery, however the practicalities of adding chelifers to hives is complicated by their canabalistic tendencies. Shipping a box of a few hundred would result in only a handful of large ones arriving at their destination and so many in the bee world have dismissed this finding as neither practical or enforceable.

 

Wilding

I however was very encouraged to learn of their historic habitation in Europe with bees. Having recently read Isabella Tree’s book ‘Wilding’, I was also inspired by their findings at Knepp Castle, that all varieties of species, once thought no longer found in the UK, would miraculously re appear, when the right conditions for them is established.

We can only wonder how the Painted Lady butterflies knew that acres of ground thistle were waiting for them across the English Chanel, or that Turtle Doves learned that it was now safe to return to the Sussex countryside. Who are we to say that if roughly sawn bee hives with beds of straw and a larder full of varroa mites may entice the pseudoscorpions back?

To me it is a clear indication that nature does indeed know best, and as with our own bodies, if the. Correct environment is created, balance and health return.

Natural hives

Maybe if I hadn’t heard Ujubee’s story, or seen such a creature with my own eyes, I may not have taken such an interest in this article. To me it gives hope, and a justification to let the bees live in a more natural environment. It also reflects what I am learning about our own health and wellbeing. Finding a chemical to ‘kill’ an invading bacteria or virus, could also be destroying our bodies own natural defences, just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there!

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