Mite-Resistant Russian Bees Also Have Winter
Hardiness By Jan
June 15, 2001
America's domestic and feral honey bees have taken a beating
this year from a combination of parasitic mites and a bitter 2000-2001 winter.
But a sturdy new Russian honey bee is helping fortify the ranks of this helpful
insect whose pollination is worth $14.6 billion to U.S. agriculture each
Results emerging from commercial evaluations of the Russian bee
point not only to mite resistance, but also to exceptional winter hardiness and
other traits. So say apiarists in Mississippi, Louisiana and Iowa, who've been
testing the breed since 1999 in cooperation with
Agricultural Research Service scientists
at the Honey Bee Breeding,
Genetics and Physiology Research Laboratory, Baton Rouge, La.
The tests are part of the ARS lab's 5- to 8-year goal of
providing U.S. apiarists with 36 to 40 elite lines of breeder queens derived
from eastern Russia's Primorsky Territory. There, prolonged winters and heavy
mite selection pressures allow only the sturdiest bees to survive.
Through a cooperative agreement with ARS, Bernards
Apiaries, Inc., of Breaux Bridge, La., raises and sells both pure-Russian
breeder queens, for $500 each, and Russian-American hybrids, for $12.
Data from test yard evaluations by Manley Bigalk of Cresco,
Iowa, and Hubert Tubbs of Webb, Miss., show the Russian bee is a true winter
warrior. Of the 1,200 to 1,400 domestic colonies Tubbs lost this past winter,
only two Russian-bred colonies didn't survive. Manley credits that winter
hardiness to efficient use of honey and resistance to tracheal mites, which
stress winter-weakened hives.
The breed also resists varroa mites, another menace. In tests,
varroa mite reproduction on Russian bees was two to three times lower than
domestic breeds. Indications are this will mean lower miticide control costs,
less stress on bees, timelier honey harvests and less chance for mite
resistance to pesticide compounds, notes Thomas Rinderer, an ARS supervisory
geneticist at Baton Rouge.
The Russian breed also is a busy bee: In Tubbs' evaluations,
each hive averaged 130-150 pounds of honey.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.
Scientific contact: Thomas Rinderer, ARS
Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and
Physiology Research Laboratory, Baton Rouge, La., phone (225) 767-9281, fax
(225) 766-9212, firstname.lastname@example.org. Steven
Bernard, Bernard's Apiaries, Breaux Bridge, La., phone/fax (318) 228-7535,