Promoting Honey Bee Health Through Education and Breeding
Every Beekeeper is a Queen Breeder
The management practices each of us follow in our apiaries directly affects what genes get passed on to the next generation. If we 'help' weak bees survive by keeping them on 'life support' with antibiotics and treatments, those genes will get passed on, leaving us with weaker bees. At the same time, as evidenced by the many mite treatments which are no longer effective, treating hives for mites results in an unintentional selection of the strongest mites (no chemical treatment is 100% effective) and the mites that survive go on to breed, resulting in 'super mites' (Reference, see page 6).
Feral Honey Bee Populations Survive All Over the World
with Varroa Present, in Part Due to Strong Genetics
Scientific study of feral honey bee populations has provided definitive evidence that wild honey bee populations can recover after the introduction of the Varroa Destructor mite. This review Article (Locke, et. al, 2015) references ten locations around the globe where Apis Melifera have developed some form of natural mite tolerance and/or resistance (See map below). Feral bee populations in the Cornell University Arnot Research Forest manage mite and disease levels on their own, at nearly identical population densities as before the arrival of the varroa mite in the USA. This June 2017 paper, by Dr. Tom Seeley, and one of his talks at the 2017 National Honey Show indicate that, if allowed, honey bees evolve to live on their own with mites present.
Modern Apiculture is catching on...
At the 2016 North Carolina State Bee Association's first 'Born and Bred' queen rearing workshop, not a single speaker left the podium without stating in one way or another that strong genetics from locally bred queens is the key to breeding bees that can survive on their own without treatments. We have to let the weak bees die (but this doesn't mean you have to lose all your bees--just monitor and re-queen).
"Given the poor performance of the miticides at reducing mites and their inconsistent effects on the host, these results defend the use of bee health management practices that minimize use of exotic hive chemicals. " (Berry, et. al. 2013)
Since that paper was published, the Bee Informed Partnership's results also bear out their observations, with only a 10% higher survival rate for treated colonies nation wide (https://bip2.beeinformed.org/survey/ then click "used varroa treatment" in the left hand sidebar).
Select for bees that survive
American beekeepers have had great success breeding gentle bees that produce lots of honey. What might happen if we add a focus on the elimination of colonies unable to survive on their own (weak genetics) as well? Thanks to the varroa mite, we have an easy-to-measure indicator of a colony's ability to tolerate mites. By frequent monitoring and re-queening of colonies that don't exhibit mite and disease tolerance, we will push their genetics in the right direction. If you really love the chemicals and creating 'super mites', by all means treat your bees (the pharmaceutical companies are counting on it!), but you'll only be left with the same weak genetics if you don't 'off with Her head' at the same time. Treatment without re-queening pushes genetics in the wrong direction for both host and parasite as plainly stated by Locke, et. al, 2015:
"Co-evolutionary processes such as natural selection that lead to a stable host-parasite relationship as seen with the Asian hive bee have been hindered for the European honeybee host since apicultural practices remove the mite and consequently the selective pressure required for such an adaptive process to occur. On top of that, pesticides administered to colonies by beekeepers to treat against mite infestation can actually cause more damage to bee health (Haarmann et al. 2002; Johnson et al. 2009; Locke et al. 2012a). .. Modern apicultural practices actually favor parasitic transmission routes that select for higher virulence, mainly by preventing swarming, crowding colonies in high density apiaries, and by exchanging hive equipment between diseased or dead colonies (Fries and Camazine 2001; Seeley and Smith 2015). "
I created this site to challenge and support the Western North Carolina beekeeping community to become more active in raising their own queens to increase the strength and diversity of our regional honey bee population, while reducing their reliance on the unsustainable and damaging use of pesticides, one apiary at a time. I also hope that a better understanding of the honey bee will lead to a greater appreciation of the importance of all pollinators, and increased efforts to protect and expand their habitat (plant flowers).
I hope you find the resources here useful and the programs offered, informative and fun.
Click here if you enjoy using chemical treatments on your bees
Please feel free to make suggestions, and spread the world!
Catching early, feral swarms are a great source of localized, survivor honey bee genetics.
An excerpt from Locke, et. al. 2015 review paper titled, "Natural Varroa mite-surviving Apis mellifera honeybee populations "
The apicultural industry is drastically threatened by catastrophic colony losses due to the spread of honeybee diseases and parasites, especially the Varroa mite (Neumann and Carreck 2010; Ratnieks and Carreck 2010). Ironically, the spread of these diseases in apiculture is facilitated through intensified management practices (Fries and Camazine 2001). Co-evolutionary processes such as natural selection that lead to a stable host-parasite relationship as seen with the Asian hive bee have been hindered for the European honeybee host since apicultural practices remove the mite and consequently the selective pressure required for such an adaptive process to occur. On top of that, pesticides administered to colonies by beekeepers to treat against mite infestation can actually cause more damage to bee health (Haarmann et al. 2002; Johnson et al. 2009; Locke et al. 2012a). Adaptations by the mite towards reduced virulence depend on the available transmission routes within the honeybee population, which can be altered by apiculture. Vertical transmission from mother to daughter leads to reduced virulence adaptations, while horizontal transmission between colonies leads to increased mite virulence (Schmid-Hempel 2011). Modern apicultural practices actually favor parasitic transmission routes that select for higher virulence, mainly by preventing swarming, crowding colonies in highdensity apiaries, and by exchanging hive equipment between diseased or dead colonies (Fries and Camazine 2001; Seeley and Smith 2015)