Submitted to: Journal of Economic Entomology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/17/2008
Publication Date: 2/10/2009
Citation: Strange, J.P., Calderone, N.W. 2009. Evaluation of apicultural characteristics of first year colonies initiated from packaged honey bees, Apis mellifera L. (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 102:485-492.
Interpretive Summary: Beekeepers buy package honey bees to replace dead colonies or to increase the number of colonies they managed. The quality of packages has been shown to vary among producers and we investigate the outcomes of honey bee colonies started from packages of varying quality. Of particular interest were effects that the parasitic mite Varroa destructor and the gut parasite Nosema had on colony development. Other colony characteristics of interest to beekeepers such as hygienic behavior, suppression of mite reproduction and honey production were measured. We found that although colonies had different levels of mites in the spring, by autumn most colonies had similar mite loads. Likewise, differences in the observed level of Nosema infection had disappeared by autumn. One notable result was that colonies that were started from packages containing Nosema infected bees produced significantly less honey than non-infected packages. Beekeepers should carefully evaluate the sources they use for package purchases and medicate for disease and parasite control when packages are received.
Technical Abstract: We evaluated six stocks of the honey bee, Apis mellifera, from four producers. We examined the effects of initial levels of the parasitic mite Varroa destructor Anderson and Trueman, the endoparasitic mite Acarapis woodi (Rennie), the intestinal parasite Nosema (species not determined) and levels of adult drones in 48 packages on corresponding levels of those same traits in the fall in colonies that developed from those 48 packages. After package installation, we measured the rate of queen failure, freeze-killed hygienic behavior, varroa-sensitive hygiene, and short-term weight gain in all colonies. We examined the correlations among these traits and the effect of initial package conditions and stock on the expression of these traits. In general, differences among stocks were not significant, except that we did observe significant differences in the proportion of mite infected cells in the fall. Weight gain was significantly lower in colonies established from Nosema infected packages (0.603 + 0.118kg per day) versus those established from non-infected packages (0.761 + 0.098kg per day). Freeze-killed hygienic behavior and varroa-sensitive hygienic behavior were positively correlated, suggesting that both traits could be selected simultaneously. Neither trait was correlated with colony weight gain, suggesting that both traits could be selected without compromising honey production.