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Russian Queens

USDA scientists have imported a strain of honeybee from Russia which are naturally resistant to Varroa mites. The imported queens were selected from bees which had been exposed to mite infestation for nearly a century. If natural selection can produce tolerance to Varroa, then these bees may be our best bet.

The new Russian strain has gone through a quarantine and testing period since 1997, and are now being released to American beekeepers. Ongoing selection for further resistance to Varroa is being carried out by a team of top USDA scientists from the Honey Bee Breeding ,Genetics, and Physiology Laboratory in Baton Rouge, LA.

Pure naturally mated Russian queens are available from the Russian Bee Breeders Association members.


In 1905 the trans-Siberian railroad was completed, opening eastern Russia to the rest of Europe. The European honeybee was imported into this area which had only been inhabited by the Asian honey bee Apis cerana, the natural host of Varroa mites.

The Asian honeybee and varroa mites have co-evolved into a balanced host/parasite relationship without much harm being done. Varroa only reproduces on drone pupae in these bees, and drones are only available part of the year, so high populations of mites never build up.

When the European bees encountered varroa, things were different. Varroa is able to reproduce on worker pupae which allows extremely high numbers of mites to build up. This high infestation eventually kills the colony. Beekeepers have been keeping mite populations down at great effort and expense, using miticides such as Apistan ( fluvalinate). But today, mite resistance to fluvalinate is clearly taking place, and will likely spread across the country just as rapidly as varroa did originally.

Feral bees or bees managed without miticides have intense natural selection pressure, allowing only the most mite resistant colonies to survive. There are at least four resistance mechanisms that scientists have identified. They include, bees grooming mites off themselves and each other, hygienic behavior of removing infested pupae, acceleration of brood development, and suppression of mite reproduction. The ultimate goal of bee breeders is to produce bees with all these traits in a single stock of bees. It's hoped that the Russian bees will provide resistant genes that will let us take a giant step forward in the breeding effort. An earlier USDA introduction of bees from Yugoslavia did much in enhancing resistance to another serious pest, the tracheal mite.

Russian bee Links

Russian Bee Breeders Association

"Commercial Management of ARS Russian Honey Bees"

"Varroa Resistance of Hybrid ARS Russian Honey Bees"

"Hygienic Behavior by Honey Bees from Far-Eastern Russia"

"A New Phase Begins for the USDA-ARS Russian Honey Bee Breeding Program"

"Unusual Queen Cell Construction and Destruction in Apis Mellifera from Far-Eastern Russia"

"Russian Honey Bee Earning Its Stripes

For the latest research on Russian bees click here


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