In foreground, ARS
geneticist Tom Rinderer (right) and beekeeping cooperator Steve Bernard inspect
bee colonies. Click the image for more information about it.
The Latest Buzz on Russian Bees
By Erin Peabody
August 9, 2006
The busy beethat tireless purveyor of plant pollenhas had
a rough time of it lately. Parasitic mites are beating down this industrious
insect that's crucial for producing more than $15 billion worth of U.S. crops
But according to scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), theres hope for weary American
bees. It comes from the hills of southeast Russia.
According to recent studies done at the ARS
Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit in Baton Rouge, La.,
Russian bees are capable of deflecting three of the honey bees worst
assailants: varroa mites, tracheal mites and cold temperatures.
Ten years ago, Baton Rouge bee researchers led by
Rinderer trekked through Russias Primorsky Territory in search of
bees that could naturally hold their own against varroa mites. There, bees have
become battle-hardened against the blood-sucking mite, which has been harassing
Russian bees for more than 150 years.
Since Russian bees were first imported by Rinderer, they have
continued to impress researchers. In fact, ARS entomologist
Villa recently discovered just how the bees fend off tracheal mites, which
kill honey bees by invading and clogging their airways.
Villa discovered that, much like other bees resistant to tracheal
mites, Russian bees are fastidious and agile groomers, capable of using their
middle pair of legs to brush mites away.
Villa and fellow ARS entomologist
De Guzman have also confirmed that Russian bees are excellent cold-weather
survivors. After studying Russian bee colonies for five winters in northeast
Iowa, Villa and De Guzman found that the bees are less likely than other bees
to lose hive members during harsh, cold weather. Russian bees appear more
frugal with their winter food stores.
Thanks to the ARS Russian bee breeding program, promising Russian bee
stock will continue to reach U.S. honey bee queen breeders. Kicking off an
intensive selective breeding effort this year, Baton Rouge researchers are
still striving for the ultimate Russian beeone that embodies the
important economic qualities, like mite resistance and good honey production,
which beekeepers look for.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.