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.
Instrumentally inseminated Russian breeder queens are no longer available from Glenn Apiaries. See our for other queens available.
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
"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