Our objective was to measure the total mite count, MBB, and Winter Survivorship in captured feral honeybee colonies, and compared to the current line of MBB-selected stock, versus a control group. We want to understand if and why feral colonies are more winter hardy than our currently available bees, and if MBB plays a role in that hardiness, or perhaps some other trait. We successfully performed our swam captures, and measure all data need up to this point in time of the project.
Our objective was to trap feral honeybee swarms, measure mite counts, biting-behavior, and survivorship, and then compare them to current line of MBB stock and a control group. Feral colonies have survived winter for years without human intervention and mite treatment; these could be genetic treasure for the future of breeding mite resistant bees.
We set out swarm traps following Dr. Seeley’s designs in remote areas that are favorable for bees, and far from modern beekeepers, and commercial bees. For isolation, we have conferred with the Pennsylvania Apiary Department to select locations far from registered managed hives. Swarm boxes were baited and installed on trees, and checked regularly, and when a feral swarm moved in, we will removed the trap and replaced it with a new one. The swarm trap, which is a standard 8/10 frame deep, is moved to a isolated project beeyard. The captured bees are managed in similar equipment as the other test groups. We started in late March and removed the traps in September. We anticipated that each participant can capture at least 4 swarms, which was case. Feral bees comprise Group 1.
Note, from a past grant will still have valuable genetic stock lines that have overwintered, and have been measured in for the same parameters that we used for this 2017 project. This project is progressively building on, and furthering past work, based on findings and recommendations guided by our adviser. Dr. Hunt’s Purdue 2017 MBB genetics are the composite of ‘selected bees’ for Group 2.
MBB is defined by a honeybee biting one or more legs off of a Varroa mite, and an assay has been developed by Dr. Greg Hunt at Purdue University (Hunt & Andino ABJ 2011) for accurately measuring the proportion of chewed mites in a colony. This will yield measurable results, and a potential tool for breeding selections. The method has two major components, collection of mites, and evaluation of chewed legs. The collection of mites in the field by beekeepers is simple: (1) an oiled board is inserted over the bottom board (floor) of the colony, (2) the board is allowed to remain for 24-48 hours, (3) the mite boards are removed from the colonies, and brought to safe processing area/lab. And then the second component is evaluation: (4) sift through the contents and pluck out the dark mature mites, (5) glue/set the mites “legs up” on a glass microscope slide/petri dish, and count the total number, (6) view each mite on the slide under a low power microscope/15X-handlense and count how many mites have chewed/missing legs, (7) calculate the MBB, as a percentage, example: 12 chewed mites/ 36 total = 33% . The collection portion is simple for beekeepers to collect in field with minimal training and tools. The evaluation component, steps 4-7, is more skilled, labor intensive and time consuming. Fortunately it can be done later as time allows by the beekeeper, or outsourced to a technician.
There are three groups that were compared: (1) Feral swarms that were captured during 2017 (2) HHBBC-overwintered best MBB queens generated from our 2016 SARE grant, and 2017 AI queens generated at Purdue, and (3) Control Group-queens obtained from commercial queen producers, which have not been selected for any traits. This study allowed us to determine if the MBB traits in feral bees is associated with reduced mite loads, increased colony weight, and increased overwintering success, and if breeding for the MBB trait is warranted and feasible. The beeyards locations planned to be in the HHBBC members respective states: Jeff Berta W-PA, D Martin C-PA, Bernie Svidergol C-PA, Mark Gingrich E-PA, Dwight Wells W-OH, and Dan O’Hanlon-WV. Each yard started with about 4 colonies from each group. Practically, all colonies were measured at least 3 times.
We have collected the field data for the Summer/Fall portion of the study. We need to see how many colonies survive the Winter before we can determine the mortality/survivorship.
We have not analyzed the data at this point in time. We will not be able to draw conclusion until Penn State helps us w/ the statistical analysis.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
Our outreach was primarily by field days were we distributed MBB/Leg-chewer genetics. We gave the participants either queens, virgin queens, cells, or grafted larvae as part of the programmed event. Along with education on how to introduce and produce queens, and testing for for Varroa mites, and chewing. The following events took place:
Charlie Vorisek NW PA Beekeepers, Linesville PA-82 beekeepers
Mark Gingrich York county Beekeepers, Bethlehem PA-70 beekeepers
Steve Repasky Burgh Bees, Sewickley PA-90 beekeepers
Bernie Svidergol 2Cs and a B Beekeepers-10 beekeepers
Dwight Wells NWC OH Beekeepres-70 beekeepers
For total of 322 participants, plus likely about 10% of bystanders, kids, club member workers, and spouses. Total impact about 350 people.
Beekeepers have become frustrated by their bees dying overwinter, and more recently even before Christmas.
The primary reason for bee mortality is high infestations of Varroa mites. We taught the participants how to measure the Varroa percentages, what those percentages mean, and different management options, including MBB/Leg-chewer genetics. People were excited that there are more options to keep their bees alive than using harsh chemical treatments.
The study did get a good sampling of feral bees to look at and evaluate, so we successfully performed our experiment. Many of the swarms were really awful bees, mean, aggressive, disease ridden, non-productive; but, a few were exceptional bees and show promise. We are currently evaluating the mite and weight data from all three groups of bees, and will need to see how many overwinter before we can complete our statistical analysis. We will know then if we have any real ‘winners’ from our feral swarms that we captured.
Moving forward, I feel we should continue to capture swarms and evaluate them. However, they should be kept separate and isolated from other bees so to keep them pure. Also, this will prevent the mites from transferring between colonies, which can kill promising hives. We had to treat for mites in several locations to keep our bees alive, because the mite percentages exceeded critical levels. The transferring/migration of mites between the commercial bees, or poor quality swarms could be the cause for this occurring. Hence the the bees should be kept apart for mite migration reasons, but that would make the geographic variations so great it would be difficult to perform any meaningful statistics on the data.
Many excited beekeepers said things that were very positive, such as “I never knew what mites looked like until I came here”, and “I did not know I was supposed to be looking for mites, and that is what killed my bees”, and ” I hate those creepy little mites, I glad those bee are chewing them up into little pieces!”
We have returning field ‘alumni’ participants who have had our Leg-chewer bees from the the last 3 years. A few quotes from them “I have not really had to treat since using the ankle biter bees, or if I have, only a few”, and “My winter losses are a lot less now than they have been”, and “They can be a little meaner, but make more honey, but just so long as they are even meaner to the those “*#%” mites, I’m OK with them being a little feistier”.