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Mite-Resistant Russian Bees Also Have Winter Hardiness

By Jan Suszkiw
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 year.

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, Bernard’s 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, Steven Bernard, Bernard's Apiaries, Breaux Bridge, La., phone/fax (318) 228-7535,

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