PMMA Combs

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PMMA Combs

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How Does it Work?

Matthias Schmidt registered a patent in 1994 for a polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA, better known under the trademark names Plexiglas or Perspex) comb design. The brood cells have a conic shape – the bottom being wider than the opening and cylinder-shaped. This cell shape allows storing a greater amount of feeding jelly. Due to a richer feeding, the bee larvae hatch earlier, on the 17-18th after egg-laying instead of the 21st day in normal conditions. Varroas mate in the brood cell one day before the hatching of the young bee, that is to say on the 20th after egg-laying. An early hatching prevent thus varroas to reproduce. [1]

Efficiency

Insufficient data.

An overview of organic control by E. Noirot from Brussels' university mentions this method ("Schmidt'schen frame" – but without specifying the material used for the combs). It characterizes the method as not efficient enough, since some varroa females were found to be fertilised before the 17th day of the bee nymph growth, thus would only reduce the number of mite number in the hive, which would not offer a sufficient remedy.[2] Moreover, this method could result in the selection of mites that reproduce earlier, thus end up to be ineffective and even to worsen the problem.

Risks

Too little knowledge is currently available on which influence polyméthapolymethyl methacrylate might have on bees and honey: It is known that polymethyl methacrylate dust and vapours are irritating for human and other mammals' mucous membranes[3], but, apparently, no toxicity studies neither on PMMA nor on the additives used to enhance its stability, has been performed on insects and on their behaviour in contact with honey up to now. Even if the product is reputed as of low-toxicity and very stable, there still some degree of uncertainty. The acceptance of plastic is generally low in organic beekeepers.

A too rich feeding of the larvae may result in physiological modifications in workers, as, e.g. enlarged ovaries, which may lead the workers to behave similarly to a queen.

This kind of strong intervention by humans my delay an evolutive adaptation of Apis mellifera. On the other hand, varroa could well evolve to adapt to the new situation and mate earlier, which would render the invention ineffective.

Bees use comb vibrations to communicate inside the hive. Therefore, a different material may interfere with communication, as PMMA is a very rigid material and certainly behaves differently than wax. Nevertheless, a study performed with Pierco, also a rigid plastic, did not confirm this assumption.[4]

Practicability

Plastic combs or comb foundations can be inserted in the hive as the usual combs. They break less easily than wax comb during centrifugation.

Some beekeepers have mentioned hygienic problems with other types plastic combs (difficulties cleaning).[5]

Bees show low acceptance, at the beginning at least, of plastic combs. Dipping the comb in syrup or honey of coating with wax increases acceptance. Bees have to be forced on the comb and up to five weeks can be necessary to obtain this acceptance.[6][7]

Bees were reported to store less honey in plastic combs than in wax.[8]

Further Advice

There lack of scientific evidence that this methods bring the desired effects. Due to the potential physiology modifications on bees, this method seems dubious.

Bees have evolved through millennia and certainly know which cell configuration is best for them. Strong interventions by human may add new problems and worsen the current plight of the bee. The method is not recommendable in organic beekeeping.

References

  1. PatentDe, 1994 : Kunststoffbienenwabe. http://www.patent-de.com/19940113/DE4222602A1.html
  2. Noirot E., 2000: The Short-Comings of Anti-Varroa Methods. Université de Bruxelles, Laboratoire de psychologie expérimentale. Bruxelles, 2000. http://www.beekeeping.com/articles/us/anti_varroa_methods.pdf
  3. EPA, 1998: Toxicological review of methyl methacrylate. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/NCEA/iris/toxreviews/1000-tr.pdf
  4. Seely T. D., Reich A. M., Tautz J., 1995: Does plastic comb foundation hinder waggle dance communication? http://www.apidologie.org/index.php?option=article&access=standard&Itemid=129&url=/articles/apido/pdf/2005/04/M4095.pdf
  5. Imkerforum.de, 2004: Nordwabe. http://www.imkerforum.de/showthread.php?t=7706&highlight=nordwabe
  6. Beesource Beekeeping Forums, 2009: Fast regression on HSC - too good to be true? http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?p=468059e
  7. Douglas Farm, 2009: Beekeeping Page. http://www.freewebs.com/douglasfarm/beekeepingequipment.htm
  8. Oliver R., 2009: Trial of HoneySuperCell® Small Cell Combs. http://www.scientificbeekeeping.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=51




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