Honeystone® Varroa Resistance Research, 2001
(continued from Honeystone Research 2000)

The winter of 2000-2001 was unusually dry and fairly cold. None of the research bees were disturbed or inspected until the weather warmed up in April. All of the control colonies survived, but the Russians and hybrids did not do as well. Seeking to measure the mite infestation rate of each colony with a less invasive technique than brood sampling, members of the research group made screened bottom boards and placed special "drop sheets" beneath them.
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Screen boards and drop sheets were used, with and without miticide strips, to measure the number of mites present in each colony. By counting the number of mites that fell onto the greased paper sheets on the floor of each hive, we developed the graph below. Note that the pure Russian colonies had the lowest mite levels.
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The failure of the Russians to thrive may not be solely due to Varroa mites. We think the queens might not have mated well enough to produce viable populations. Such mating failure could be due to the conditions on the quarantine island where the queens were isolated. The environment on Grand Terre island in the Gulf of Mexico is vastly different from the bees' origin in Siberia.

Our research group applied for more Russian Queens, but due to high demand, replacements were not immediately available. Since we could not continue the project with the bees on hand, we faced the choice of quitting or attempting to raise some purebred Russians ourselves. The problems involved with propagating the survivors were formidable, but nobody wanted to quit.

After receiving permission to try breeding from the surviving stock, the cooperating beekeepers moved their remaining Russian and F1 colonies to an isolated yard near Nashville, Oregon. The F1 colonies were headed by Russian queens mated to western drones. Because of the unique genetic make up of honey bees, the F1 drones carry only the queen's genes, so both Russian and F1 colonies provided pure Russian drones. As far as we know, there were no feral or domestic colonies within flying range of the mating yard.

Kenny and Heike Williams of Wild Harvest Honey grafted day old eggs from the best pure Russian colony into small wax cups primed with royal jelly. Lifting a tiny bee egg out of a worker cell is a remarkably difficult challenge. Bee breeders say, "If you can see the egg, it is too old." The eggs all have to be exactly the same age so that the queens emerge at the same time.

(left) Kenny Williams places a freshly grafted rack of queen cells into a queenless "starter/finisher" colony immediately after transferring worker eggs to queen cups.
(right) Three weeks later, Heike Williams holds bar of finished queen cells during the process of placing the almost emerging queens in special small hives called mating nucs (nuc is short for nucleus and generally pronounced "nuke") (below)
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Chuck and Kathy Hunt used an alternative technique to produce queen cells, a "cell plug" method that does not require grafting because the breeder queen is manipulated to lay her eggs in special cups. Chuck and Kathy produced 21 ripe queen cells, which resulted in 11 viable queens. The result was a second round of queen cells introduced into the mating nucs in Kenny and Heike's isolated yard. Kenny and Heike produced 14 queens, making a total of 25 successfully mated, pure Russian queen bees for the continuation of the project.

The project has become not just passive observational research but an active breeding program to produce a genetic line of bees that will be suited to the Oregon climate and will be resistant to Varroa mites.
click here for the Honeystone Bee Research 2002

We would like to express our thanks to the
United States Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education- Farmer/Rancher Research and Education Projects - Western Region for providing the funds that have made this research possible.