Russian Honey Bee Queens Resistant to Varroa in Oregon

Final Report for FW00-034

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2000: $9,125.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information


This project sought to compare mite populations between colonies of #1 pure Russian workers, #2 Hybrid Russian workers and #3 pure Western workers in a Northwest Oregon environment.

To analyze the performance of Russian honeybees in terms of varroa mite population in colonies, the project team compared mite loads in colonies of pure Russian, Hybrid Russian and pure Western worker bees.

One start-up difficulty affected survival of the bees being tested, notably the late arrival of bees donated from the Baton Rouge USDA Research Station in Louisiana.

Results to date show that pure Russian honeybees have the lowest mite loads, which suggests they may provide an alternative to chemicals for managing mites. To continue the project beyond the SARE-funded scope, the participants are breeding their own Russian queens, which they will continue to assess for mite load, bee populations and honey production.

The original project was planned to compare 15 colonies of pure Russian queens with 15 colonies of standard stock queens. However, 22 pure Russian queens failed to arrive as expected, in late March or early 2000, from the Baton Rouge USDA Research Station. Project members discovered they could also get Hybrid Russian queens from Baton Rouge, which could add another variable to the experiment, namely the inheritability of resistance. Thirty-four Hybrid Russian queens arrived May 5, 22 pure Russian queens arrived May 25 and 35 Carniolan, or Western, drones (the control group), arrived May 28. Each member of the project team set up 15 colony nuclei – five for each of the three types.

Results collected at the end of the first season (August and September 2000) showed the lowest varroa mite colonies with pure Russian workers, the highest with Hybrid Western workers and a medium level with Western workers. (Pure Russians are produced by Russian queens mated with Russian drones; Hybrid Russians are Russian queens mated with Western drones; and Westerns are Western queens mated with Western drones.)

Following the winter of 2000/2001, the pure Russian workers had the lowest mite load, the colonies of Hybrid Russian workers (that were still alive) had medium mite loads and the pure Western workers had the highest mite loads. The Russian Hybrid colonies may have had low mite loads because few survived.
Specific results, gathered through statistical analysis, showed that colonies with Hybrid Russian queens had 27% more mites than did colonies with Western queens. Pure Russian queens, meanwhile, had 28% fewer mites than did colonies with Western queen

“Russian bees do maintain lower mite loads without any miticide,” the project report said. “This is extremely important for Integrated Pest Management.”

Western bees survived best, because they’re adapted to the West Coast environment, while the pure hybrids had a medium survival rate compared with the Russian Hybrids.

Because few Russian queens received from Baton Rouge survived (4 of 22), project team members decided to raise their own Oregon Russian queens. They selected two surviving queens that had the highest bee populations, the lowest mite count and the best honey production. Of 47 mating nuclei (comprising small, five-frame hives) established, 25 successfully produced Oregon Russian queens. These queens were placed in the project members’ mating yards where they’ll be evaluated in spring 2002 for low mite counts, high bee populations and honey production. The best queens will be selected for breeder queens at the end of 2002.

The goal of this project is sustainable beekeeping. If the Russian workers prove to successfully reduce varroa mites, beekeepers will be able to use Integrated Pest Management. Reducing the cost of beekeeping will reduce the farmers’ cost of pollination, important given that bees are essential to one-third of the farm gate value of Oregon agricultural commodities, which comes to $1.5 billion a year. In addition, the ability to use IPM will make beekeeping more profitable, encouraging continuation of this agricultural occupation.

This project team hopes to encourage the use of Hybrid Russians and improve the breeding of Russians to make them more attractive for use by beekeepers. It also hopes to continue developing and breeding Oregon Russian queens. Either way, mite-resistant Russian genes will be in the overall populations of the honeybees. Drones born to Russian queens (no matter whether the queen has mated with Russian drones or Western drones) will be pure Russian. This mite resistance will reduce or eliminate the use of coumaphos (Checkmate) and fluvalinate (Apistan). It’s hard to predict the overall impact in dollars or amounts of pesticide reduction. But the project has introduced the importance of sampling for varroa mite loads, and beekeepers are being encouraged to sample, especially through the Lane County Beekeepers Association, which reaches more than 100 members monthly.

Local beekeepers have shown interest in the project, and inquiries and discussion on the research continue. However, some comments from area beekeepers about the performance of Hybrid Russians have been disappointing. Oregon beekeepers have been able to buy Hybrid Russian queens from queen breeders. But they’ve found that the varroa count has not been reduced as much as hoped, a finding confirmed in this project. Further, honey production hasn’t been good with Russian queens.

A late start inhibits a project’s start and progress. This project suffered from late arrival of the Russian queens, their questionable breeding and their difficulty in surviving the winter.

This project has reached a wide audience, including 100 people at workshops, 350 people at conferences and 3,000 people at the Lane County Home & Garden Show. A large poster summarizing the project and the results of the first season was designed and presented at the 2000 and 2001 conference of the Oregon State Beekeepers Association in Hood River; the Lane County Home & Garden Show in Eugene March 2001; the Lane County Beekeepers Association Annual Bee School in Eugene March 2001; and the annual meeting of the Western Apicultural Society of North America at Oregon State University in Corvallis August 2001, during which the project’s technical advisor, Lynn Royce, reported project findings.

Several local newspapers published reports on the findings, including: “Super Russian queen bee comes to Summit,” Corvallis Gazette-Times, Oct. 5, 2000; “Bees Biz Buzz,” Eugene Weekly, March 15, 2001; “USDA Breeds Mite-resistant Honeybees,” Capital Press, July 27, 2001; “Beekeepers Battle more than Mites,” Corvallis Gazette-Times, Aug. 30, 2001. Articles were also published in several issues of the Lane County Beekeepers Association newsletter.

Three producers were directly involved in this project, including Charles Hunt, project coordinator, and Katharine Hunt of Clear Hills Honey in Eugene, Ore.; Kenny and Heike Williams of Wild Harvests Honey in Blodgett, Ore.; and Bertie Stringer and Marshall Dunham of Honeystone Candles in Blodgett.


Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.