Improving the Honeybee Queen Qualities and Genetic Diversity by Transferring Selected Queen Cells

Progress report for ONC19-062

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2019: $40,000.00
Projected End Date: 05/01/2022
Grant Recipient: Central State University
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Hongmei Li-Byarlay
Central State University
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Project Information

Summary:

Honeybees are the most important managed pollinators contributing $15 billion to the US economy. However, managed bee colonies are in a 60% annual decline in Ohio. The ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor is the most severe factor for the disease and weakness of the colonies since 1987. Promoting mite resistant bees is one of the most effective ways to mitigate bee decline. We have a collection of bee stocks from feral colonies that are mite resistant. However, the limit factor for local honeybee resources is fewer queens and nuclei available to fulfill the demand of beekeepers in the region. 

Working with experienced queen producers in 2019, we aim to improve the queen quality of honeybee stocks by using the queen cells. We have tested the quality and colony demographics of 48-hr queen cells from either commercial package bees (n=3) or feral stocks (n=5). We had difficulties using the commercial package bees to produce queen cells probably due to the biology of these bees. Therefore, we are adjusting our plan for 2020 to use the same cell builder colonies for both commercial package bees and feral stocks.

We held two workshops in 2019 for Southern and Western Ohio beekeepers. Both workshops integrated lectures and field demonstrations on queen quality, queen cells, discussions on how to do queen rearing in a sustainable way. We distributed sixty queen cells with mite resistant traits to twenty-seven participants, who gained hands-on experience on how to use microscopes to check on mite biting behavior. We followed to all the bee yards of participants and collected mites in the fall of 2019.

We carried out field experiments on the egg-laying behavior/rate of queens from different bee stocks (feral, Russian, and commercial package bees). The data from the experiment showed the egg-laying rate of Russian queens is significantly higher than feral and commercial honey bees. There is a trend that the egg-laying rate of feral honey bees is higher than that of commercial honey bees. 

Because of COVID, we have to cancel our workshop in 2020. We are holding virtual webinars about this topic every 2nd and 4th Wednesday evening at 6 pm for anyone who registered to watch our live events online. 

We have increased the queen quality and genetic diversity of honey bee stocks that display mite resistance behavior by using queen cells. The outcome is to improve the quality and quantity of queen production in Ohio.

Project Objectives:

Our objectives are

1) to test the possibility of 48-hr queen cells for efficient queen bee production,

2) to increase the queen quality and genetic diversity of honey bee stocks that display mite resistance behavior by using queen cells,

3) and to distribute 100 queens with mite-resistant traits to local beekeepers.

Our project will significantly improve the beekeepers’ understanding of the biology of queen bees, and help to transfer and distribute favorable genetics to more bee farmers. The outcome is to improve the quality and quantity of queen production in the region.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Research

Materials and methods:

Methods

  • For feral and commercial queen bee evaluation we used a method of queen rearing of Gilbert Doolittle and took advantage of the bees’ emergency response.
  • For feral bees, three totipotent larvae were grafted into queen cups. Cells were transported to the CSU apiary with optimal conditions of temperature and humidity. Each cell was placed into a mating nuc colony.
  • After three and a half weeks all three queens emerged from queen cells, were mated near campus, and returned to colonies successfully. Colony demographics of eggs percent, adult population, nectar percent, cap brood percent, pollen percent, capped honey percent wintering ability, and abdominal size was evaluated.
  • For the commercial bees, three packaged bee colony was purchased and we completed the exact procedures (Fig. 2) to produce 48-hr queen cells.
  • We set up 2 experiments to create cell starters and initially grafted a total of 20 larvae using the commercial colonies in a separate apiary (5 miles away from feral stock queens) near campus.
  • Colonies in both treatments (feral vs commercial) were fed with regular protein and sugar supplements when needed.
  • For the year 2020, we grafted eggs from one Russian colony (the queen was provided by the USDA ARS Baton Rouge Bee Lab), one feral colony (Ohio feral), and one commercial colony (from GA) to generate at least 3 of 48-hr queen cells per stock. All queen cells were monitored. Three queen cells from Russian stock, three queen cells from feral colonies, and one commercial queen cell were successfully emerged, mated, and were placed into new nuc colonies with the same amount of worker bees. We supplemented two queens from other existing commercial colonies to make three queens available from commercial bee colonies. 
  • All these new queens were caged in the Jenter kit for 20-24 hours, then the number of eggs was recorded between August 2nd and September 5th, 2020. 
  • Additional information on pollen, adult numbers, and brood area was also recorded.
Research results and discussion:
Research update of 2019 season
This research poster has summarized our findings and data from the 2019 season.

We carried out 2020 field experiments on the egg-laying behavior/rate of queens from different bee stocks (feral, Russian, and commercial package bees). The data from the experiment showed the egg-laying rate of Russian queens is significantly higher than feral and commercial honey bees. There is a trend that the egg-laying rate of feral honey bees is higher than that of commercial honey bees. 

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

5 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
2 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

200 Farmers
7 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

We have provided two workshops in Ohio for beekeepers in 2019. We are creating the course material and fact sheet for the workshop and the public. Participants have learned about queen biology, behavior, and development, genetic diversity, how to take care of 48-hr queen cells, how to do queen rearing, swarm traps, and sustainable apicultural practice.

We have presented our research at the Ohio State Fair, Ohio State Beekeepers Association conference in Nov. 2019, Undergraduate Research Symposium at Central State University in Oct. 2019, Greater Grand Lake Beekeepers Association meeting in Feb. 2020 in Saint Marys, Ohio, and American Bee Research Conference in Schaumberg IL in Jan. 2020.

We provided in-services for CSU Extension Educators in Jan. and Feb. 2021.

Learning Outcomes

50 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • queen quality, 48-hour queen cells, mite biting behavior

Project Outcomes

13 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Twenty-five beekeepers of Ohio have practiced how to use the microscopes from our 2019 workshop. Thirteen beekeepers have checked the mite biting behavior on their new queen cell colonies in their own bee yards.

One grant is submitted to USDA AFRI and is awarded related to the mite biting behavior and initiates the breeding effort.

One grant is submitted to USDA CBG and is awarded related to the mite biting behavior.

 

 

 

Success stories:

One family to participate in is from Cedarville, OH. I’m very impressed by the passion of both the mother and son beekeepers. They are the stars of my participants, and their queen cells performed really well over winter. The son is in middle school, but he is already an experienced beekeeper with very active 4-H projects every year about beekeeping. 

 

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.