|A Purdue queen bee and her attendants in queen cage ©2016Addison Geary|
The plight of the honeybee has received quite a bit attention in the media lately and for good reason. Honeybees are directly responsible for, or help in the pollination of 30% of the food we eat. Since 1990 the honeybee population has dropped by 25%. Researchers are calling this Colony Collapse Disorder and are trying to determine the causes.
Climate change has caused flowers to bloom earlier, sometimes before the bees come out of hibernation. Pesticides used in farming, particularly neonicotinoid’s are toxic to bees and they are losing habitat due to development. Last but not least parasites, especially the Varroa mite, spread viruses and weaken hives.
Varroa destructor is a parasitic mite that attaches itself to the back of a honeybee sucking on its blood. This not only weakens the bee but spreads diseases like deformed wing virus. Some researchers believe Verroa mites are responsible for the majority of hive losses in the United States.
There are chemical treatments for Varroa mites but placing chemicals inside the hive is not ideal especially when there is honey in the hive that you will want extract at some point in the future. Many beekeepers try more natural methods of mite control like breaking the brood cycle of the hive as Varroa lay their eggs inside the brood chamber along with the bee larvae.
|Wynn installing Purdue queen|
Entomologists at Purdue University collected dead mites from the bottom of hives in their research apiary. Inspecting the mites under a microscope they discovered some were missing one or more of their eight legs. Apparently as the bees helped to groom one another they would chew off the mite’s legs to detach it from the other bee causing the mite to bleed out and die.
For each hive in the apiary the researches counted the number of dead mites and noted the number of mites that had missing legs. It was decided that the Queens from the hives with highest number of mites with missing legs would be used in the breeding program in hopes of rearing hives with aggressive grooming characteristics baked into their genes.
This would be the ideal scenario, future generations of bees that could mange Varroa on their own without the need for chemicals.
The Purdue Queens are beginning to make their way around the country and we were lucky enough to get one from our local queen rearer.
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