July 22, 2021

European Foul Brood (031)

Have you ever had European Foulbrood (EFB) in one or more of your hives? How do you know if it was EFB? What does it look like? What does it smell like? Does it smell like American Foulbrood (AFB), or look like AFB? If you’re not sure, how do you...

EFB...?Have you ever had European Foulbrood (EFB) in one or more of your hives? How do you know if it was EFB? What does it look like? What does it smell like? Does it smell like American Foulbrood (AFB), or look like AFB?

If you’re not sure, how do you find out? Who can you call? And what can you do about it if it is EFB? Burn, treat, scorch, feed, let it alone because it will get better? And if you need to treat, do you know a veterinarian who can give you a prescription so you can buy an antibiotic to treat with?

Kim and Jim talk about EFB today. They don’t necessarily give you all the answers, because ID and treatment aren’t perfectly defined anymore.

Tune in and hear why!


We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2021 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura


Episode 31 – European Foul Brood


Jim Tew: Well, I'm dealing with European foulbrood again.

Kim Flottum: Again? Wow.

Jim: I don't quite know why I'm so lucky, Kim. Have you ever had it before?

Kim: I am lucky because I've never had EFB. I've never had AFB either. Yes, lucky.

Jim: I'm not going to confess too much here then if you've been that clean, because for some reason I have won the EFB the lottery again.


Jim: Hi, I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: Kim and I are talking about why I was lucky enough to win the European foulbrood lottery, again.

Kim: [laughs]

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world and engaging in an informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Kim: Let's tell folks a little bit about it, because it's one of those things that isn't often real common, but when it is, it's real common, and you got to know what it looks like and what to do about it.

Jim: Exactly. You got to know, Kim, what to do with that pit in your stomach that comes immediately when you pull that frame out and there's all that spotty brood. The old guys used to say that the larvae are writhing in the cells in agony because the larvae are twisting in the bottom of the cells, and there's this odor, Kim.

Kim: I've smelled AFB in other colonies, working with inspectors, but I've never smelled EFB. Is there a difference?

Jim: Yes, there is, but I don't know how to describe it. I don't know if I've smelled it enough, often enough, routinely enough to tell you that I would be able to know the difference. If I look at American foulbrood and smell it, it's not the same odor as the odor from European foulbrood. They're both pungent, rotting, fowl, brood smells, but the big difference is, and the thing that I admonished myself on quickly that day, calm down, just take some deep breaths, watch the symptoms that you're looking at.

There are some punctured cappings in European foulbrood, but they're not as common and they're not sunken and oily the way they look in American foulbrood. Number one, look for punctured cappings, commonly in American foulbrood, but don't look for them commonly in European foulbrood. I talked myself down and I thought, "Yes, this is European." I used to see it a lot, Kim, when I was a young beekeeper. European foulbrood was a very common disease. It was a relief that it was European and not American.

Kim: Well, some of the beekeepers that I've talked to about EFB over the years, too often I think it's there in the pollination business, and their bees are working a plant that, for some reason, puts a stress on them, something. I'm thinking blueberries in the West Coast or Maine, bees go in healthy and they come out with the EFB. Is it plant-transmitted? You always wonder. You know that a bee with varroa may go to a flower, the varroa would jump off, another bee comes to that same flower, the varroa jump on, and suddenly another colony has varroa, or you've got a colony that's died of AFB and it gets robbed out by bees from other colonies, and now they have AFB. How does EFB work in something like blueberries anyway?

Jim: You've mentioned a lot of good things there. I was thinking, "Mention this, mention this, mentioned this, Jim." I'm forgetting all of them now. Number one, it is a stress disease. Number two, you hit a magic word, apparently, in some cases, varroa can distribute the pathogens of European foulbrood. Kim, this is a good time, this is a good place for a disclaimer that if you think you've got European foulbrood, don't go based on what Jim Tew said on a podcast. Go to the literature and go to your local bee inspector and get help with this whole thing.

Kim: Yes, you got to positively identify it so you know that if you're going to treat or whatever you're going to do, you're doing it for the right reason.

Jim: Yes, you are doing it for the right reason.


Sponsor: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at betterbee.com.

Jim: Well, the main thing is what to do, Kim. In the old days, it was not even a second consideration. You just applied Terramycin. I could almost give you the recipe in my mind, it was three doses, three days apart, and then, boom, your European foulbrood was gone. If it wasn't gone, Kim, what'd you do? You did three doses, three days apart. One dose every three days, and by the second time it was gone, or you were so near a winner that this self-limiting disease just cleared itself up. All you really dealt with was a colony that never did thrive, but it was common, use Terramycin. Now, what happens with Terramycin, Kim?

Kim: You got to get a prescription, which means you got to have a vet in your back pocket who knows about bees and can identify it or can at least take a sample and get it identified and confirm the fact that you have a problem and you need a drug to fix it.

Jim: I just wrote about my little episode here for Bee Culture. I just admitted in that article that I just probably wouldn't go that route, because this is my situation, I'm standing there with a colony open and I got European right now. I asked myself, "Do you just stop everything and go inside and start calling every veterinarian that you can find?" Do you start calling other beekeepers and say, "Hey, I've got European, have you had it? Do you know of a veterinarian?" You know what you've done then, Kim? You've just announced to the whole world that you're a dirty beekeeper. I mean that funny, but I mean that truly.

Kim: [laughs] Yes, that's exactly right.

Jim: You think, "Well, how am I going to discreetly find out because there's just no reason for every beekeeper to know my bee business? How about I discreetly find a veterinarian?" What I decided, Kim, is that Terramycin is no longer available to me as a hobby beekeeper.

Kim: Yes, and it's the lack of veterinarians in a lot of places right now who are capable of doing this. I know a couple of veterinarians that I could call and they would take my word for it that I have EFB, but they're going out on a limb to do that a little bit.

Jim: Yes, they are.

Kim: I'm thinking maybe even good friends might not do that. Let me ask you something, though, back up quick to make sure I know what you're talking about. What does it look like?

Jim: Oh, it's punctured cappings, Kim. It's like you've got a really bad pattern with the queen. The old guys called it a shotgun pattern, but I don't know if that makes sense anymore. Scattered brood, maybe just all across the brood frame, there's missed cells.

Kim: Maybe I'm thinking of something different because I haven't even looked at EFB in a book lately because I haven't. I was under the impression that larvae with EFB were not capped and were laying in the bottom or curled up in the bottom or along the bottom side of a cell, turning black.

Jim: No, I said something wrong because you're correct. The black is pretty far along. They're definitely brown later on and they start off to be milky yellow, but you're right, they're not capped.

Kim: There's a progression going on from, "I just got it yesterday," to, "I've had it for three weeks," and it's going to be different.

Jim: Yes. Thank you for that. The longer it goes then the more spotty that pattern. I sound like an EFB authority because I've seen it in my bees, this is my second time. I had it once about three years ago. The bees were from a completely different source, so I don't know why I'm so lucky here. I'm admitting this. I'm probably going to have the bee inspectors out here tomorrow morning to look at my bees and I admit this to the world but punctured cappings-- I'm sorry. Punctured cappings to some extent but more often than not, the larvae have sunken back in the base. They start out as a yellow off color. They evolve toward a brown. There's an odor that's present. The cells where this disease is occurring becomes more and more dark and oily looking. It's European foulbrood.

Kim: Well, two things I want bring up here real quick. One is that long ago and far away, I used to know-- I was a good friend with the inspector back in Wisconsin. His advice was, "I don't need to come out there and look, if you think you have it feed the heck out of them. European is related to some level of stress that's going back to the blueberry thing and feeding them is going to relieve that stress. In a couple of weeks," he said, "it will probably be gone. If it doesn't, call me." The other half of that equation is when you call him the first time, he probably knows the vet.

Jim: That's true. That's true and you're right. I went to the web, I went to the-- Well, who doesn't go to the web when you got this? I reviewed and I went to all the books that are out, the most recent book I could have got. One of the things is to feed profusely. I fed profusely. Just because I feed it, doesn't mean they take it.

Kim: There's that.

Jim: There's that. I offered it to them, they took it but they didn't just go crazy over it, but I did try to feed them and make up for it. I also just took the queen out. I just removed her. I've been giving out a time here. This is people who are listening.. This is not me telling you, this is what you ought to do. This is what I did in desperation to do something but I just removed the queen, put her in a cage and later on top bar there and thought that I'd give these bees three or four days to see what their hygienic behavior is.

Well, it was pretty good but it wasn't miraculous, so four days later when I took it out the queen is still alive in the cage but the odor is still there. The twisted larvae are still there. They've recovered some but this is not a miracle. Kim, that also started also about nine queen cells. I wasn't expecting that. At that moment, I thought, "Okay, this queen, I won't release her back in here, I'm just going to let them produce a new queen."

That's where I am right now. Two hours ago, I had a look, they've gone a long way toward cleaning it up. They have got those queen cells. There's queen cells open, I didn't try to find the virgin running around and before someone writes us and asks, "Why didn't you just burn it?" That is an option. Burning always just takes care of the disease but it's a bit heavy handed. Then someone should ask me, "Kim, why didn't you just take out all those diseased frames and destroy those?" That is too something that I should have done except Kim, they had my emergency queen cells on them.

Kim: [laughs]

Jim: I left in two of the frames that had the emergency queen cells on them for the queens to be produced, otherwise I would have taken out all of those frames and destroyed it. Kim, the third thing someone should ask is, "Why didn't you use one of those kits to diagnose the disease because if I was going to go buy the kit, I might as well have called the veterinarian. If I'm going to go and buy the kit and call the veterinarian, I might as well just buy another queen." I just keep getting in deeper and deeper. If you're trying to work with what you've got in the apiary, basically what you've got is pretty limited. Take the queen out, destroy some of the brood combs. Feed profusely, try to help the bees recover. They don't generally die from this but they don't thrive.

Kim: What a mess. Well, get back to me when this gets settled.

Jim: I will, and you're right. I asked the other night. I asked a regional inspector who's looked at several thousands hives this summer. He has seen no, zero European foulbrood. For those of us who are lucky enough to have it, we have a personal problem. For most of you, you're sitting there yawning, wondering why you and I just spent 15 minutes talking about this.

Kim: Well, you are special, Jim. There's no doubt about that.

Jim: I wish I was special in this way. Kim, I'll let you know I don't know if we're going to spend 15 minutes on it again. This is annoying. I didn't deserve this. I've been doing the right things and I didn't deserve this, so I'm done.

Kim: I agree. I agree. Let me know how it turns out, will you?

Jim: I'll talk to you next time.

Kim: Okay, take care.

Jim: Bye-bye.

[00:15:04] [END OF AUDIO]