Russian Bee Queens Eyed for Mite
By Jan Suszkiw
November 3, 2000
Twenty Russian honeybee queens
enjoying a respite on Grande Terre Island, La., may soon become very busy
indeed, helping breed new generations of commercial bees that resist parasitic
varroa mites. Agricultural Research
Service geneticist Thomas Rinderer and colleagues have been studying the
Russian queens since July at a quarantine apiary on Grande Terre.
If the Russian honeybees get a clean bill of health--meaning they harbor no
foreign or domestic diseases--Rinderers group will transfer them in
November to apiaries at ARS
Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Laboratory, Baton Rouge, La.
There, next spring, the Russian queens will be evaluated again. Then
Rinderers group will challenge all 40,000-60,000 members of each hive
with up to 300 mites per hive. The 1/16th-inch-long mite sucks blood from adult
bees and their brood. Severe infestations can destroy a susceptible hive unless
checked with chemical miticides. However, handling concerns, the
cost to use the chemicals, and the potential for mites to develop resistance,
have driven scientists search for bees that hold their own against the
In tests by Victor Kuznetsov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian
queens original colonies showed excellent varroa mite resistance. The
Russian and American bees are the same species, Apis mellifera. But the
Russian bees, from eastern Russias Primorsky region, have evolved to
possess natural resistance traits due to heavy mite selection pressures there.
This summer marks ARS third importation of Russian bees, an ongoing
effort aimed at broadening the genetic diversity of prior introductions of
these bees into domestic hives.
The Baton Rouge trials will help show to what degree the Russian
queens American progeny withstand mite infestations through inherited
resistance traits, such as grooming behaviors or physiological defenses. In
2002, the scientists will supply about 40 of the queens daughter bees to
cooperating apiaries in Iowa, Mississippi and Louisiana for further
In the United States, honeybees now pollinate about $14.6 billions
worth of food, fiber and feed crops.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific agency.
Scientific contact: Thomas E.
Rinderer, ARS Honey Bee Breeding and Genetics Physiology Research Unit
Baton Rouge, La., phone (225) 767-9280, fax (225) 766-9212,