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Tracheal Mite Testing Service on the Way for Bee Breeders / March 6, 2001 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Photo: Microscopic view of a bee trachea infested with tracheal mites. Link to photo information

Read: a longer story about the effort in Agricultural Research.

Tracheal Mite Testing Service on the Way for Bee Breeders

By Jan Suszkiw
March 6, 2001

A new commercial testing service could be on tap this summer to help U.S. honey bee breeders check their colonies’ mettle against parasitic tracheal mites, Acarapis woodi.

Under an agreement called a memorandum of understanding (MOU), Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologists have provided Edwin Holcombe, a Shelbyville, Tenn., beekeeper with the scientific expertise necessary to commercially test at least 15 breeder colonies from 10 clients on a first-come, first-serve basis. A similar operation in Ontario, Canada, has helped the industry there cut the mite-to-bee ratio from 13 mites per bee to 1.5. Currently, no such service exists in the United States, notes Robert Danka, with ARS’s Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

A. woodi is an exotic pest that in high numbers can kill or weaken honey bees by clogging their airways. Chemical controls are available. But experts agree the best long-term solution is to spread genetic resistance traits to the entire U.S. honey bee population, whose crop pollination is a $15 billion yearly asset to the nation’s agriculture.

The testing service will incorporate techniques Danka and a colleague, ARS entomologist José Villa, used to characterize mite resistance levels in 83 breeder colonies managed by eight commercial queen bee breeders in Hawaii, California, Texas, Louisiana and Virginia. Specifically, they tested young worker bees from the breeder colonies and compared them to bees from colonies known to be either resistant or susceptible. The variability was surprising: Of the surveyed colonies, two-thirds were mite-resistant, while one-fourth were clearly susceptible.

Holcombe, owner of Backwood Apiaries in Shelbyville, spent the past year perfecting the researchers’ mite-testing protocol. Danka and Villa will test Holcombe’s skills before certifying his proficiency.

A longer story about the effort appears in this month’s issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s principal scientific research agency.

Scientific contacts: Robert Danka and José Villa, ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Laboratory, Baton Rouge, La., phone (225) 767-9294, fax (225) 766- 9212,,

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Last Modified: 1/3/2002
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