Promoting sustainable beekeeping and genetic diversity through drone comb trapping

2013 Annual Report for FNC13-904

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $7,480.39
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:

Promoting sustainable beekeeping and genetic diversity through drone comb trapping


Honey bee drones are being ignored by bee keepers as they focus on mite control and queen rearing. In this project, “drone brood trap” frames (DBT) will be removed from honey production hives (HPH) as a proven, nonchemical means to control mites during the spring and summer months. Instead of killing the drones like most methods suggest, capped drone frames will be moved into special “drone rearing colonies” (DRC) so they can emerge as adults, saturate the local area, and potentially lead to better genetic diversity through open-mated queens.

The initial project timeline for April 2013 through March 2014 included the following tasks:

A. Locate and determine genetic lines for drones.
B. Draw out wax on plastic drone foundation frames.
C. Order, assemble, and prepare DRC equipment.
D. Conduct monthly varroa mite counts using sticky boards.

The following tasks were completed:

A. Purchased four new and different lines of bees to be evaluated for drone sources           
      a. New World Carnolians           
      b. Buckfast           
      c. Russian           
      d. Local survivor stock

B. Purchased 64 frames of drone comb, 50 of the frames were drawn out with the wax.

C. Purchased and assembled drone rearing colony equipment.

D. Monthly mite counts were made from April through September using sticky boards placed under screened bottom boards for 24 hours. Each dropped mite was also evaluated for evidence of bee grooming behavior.

The following additional tasks were also accomplished:

                A. Two of the DRC’s used during the 2014 season will contain caged virgin queens. Tests were done to determine the lifespan of a caged virgin queen.

                B. In an effort to locate a drone congregation area, an attempt was made to “air fish” for drones using a fishing pole with the helium balloons lifting a virgin caged queen into the air.

                C. Participated in the “USDA Honey Bee Pests and Diseases Survey.” This voluntary test is sponsored by the USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS). Eight random hives were tested for diseases, mite counts, and pollen pesticide residues.

                D. Attended a seminar presentation on drones given by Jim Tew, beekeeping specialist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, Auburn University and retired Ohio State Extension Beekeeping Specialist.

                E. Toured the USDA Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, & Physiology Research Facility in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

                F. Attended the 2014 North American Beekeeping Conference and Tradeshow.

                G. As word spread about my interest in raising healthy drones, a nearby beekeeper brought a trailer with nucs containing virgin queens to our mating yard.


Mite counts ranged from 0 to 50 mites. Of those hives with dropped mites, the range of chewed mites was from five percent to 70 percent with the highest percentages coming from the Purdue Grooming Line. Overall, the mite load remained fairly low. Therefore, this raises a concern about whether there were enough mites to challenge the bees into exhibiting the grooming behavior.

The “USDA Honey Bee Pest and Diseases Survey Project Plan” test indicated no pollen pesticide residue and 1.33 mites per 100 bees. The results from the disease portion of the testing have not been returned yet.

Four mated queens were purchased from each of the following lines: New World Carnolian, Buckfast, Russian, and a regional beekeeper with local survivor stock. These new queens were installed into queenless, five-frame nucs during the first two weeks of May 2013. The nucs were created from existing hives and consisted of two frames of brood at various stages of development and two frames of honey and /or pollen along with the associated bees on the frames. The fifth frame was drawn out foundation only. During queen introduction, one Apivar strip per colony was used to ensure mite loads were reduced to a consistent level for the 16 new colonies. Apivar is a contact miticide and the active ingredient, Amitraz is distributed throughout the hive by bees contacting the strips and then contacting other bees. 100 percent of the queens were accepted and started laying eggs within five days. These colonies were fed 1:1 sugar water until all the foundation was drawn out into two hive bodies. No honey was collected. Where needed, fall feeding consisted of 2:1 sugar water. Each colony had approximately 60 pounds of stored honey prior to November 25, 2013. Dry sugar was supplied as a winter emergency food source.

The winter of 2013 was one of the coldest and longest. It has been too cold, yet, to view the hives in detail. However, early observations suggest that the following lines will be used for drone colony sources: Buckfast, 2013 Local Survivor Stock, Russian (prior to 2013), and Local Survivor Stock (prior to 2013). Queens will be created form the Purdue Grooming line and possibly from the Buckfast line as they both had 100 percent winter survivability.

Virgin queens lived an average of 3-4 weeks in a cage as long as there was plenty of food and young nurse bees to help take care of them.

When discussing the project with “experts,” they have all been concerned about the mite loads in the Drone Rearing Colonies. It has been suggested that I use a miticide such as formic acid or Amitraz in these hives to control the mite load in addition to locating the DRC’s in an area far enough away from other hives to reduce the possibility of drifting. The results of a recent research study (Johnson et al., 2013) indicated that drone sperm viability was not affected by several of the various miticide drones’ reproductive potential. It went on to say beekeepers concerned with drone reproductive health may be able to safely apply miticides when only adult drones are present as in the case of the DRC’s. So I am taking this under consideration.


Johnson Reed M, Dahlgren Lizette, Siegfried Blair D, Ellis Marion D (2013) Effect of in-hive miticides on drone honey bee survival and sperm viability, Journal of Apicultural Research, Vol. 52 (2) PP.88-95


Apr 15, 2014 – Install 1st frame of drawn out drone foundation in all HPH’s

Apr 30, 2014 – Install 2nd frame of drawn out drone foundation in all HPH’s

May 15, 2014 – Set up DRC’s, 1st move of frames into DRC’s

May 30 – Sept 2014 – Exchange DRC and HPH drone frames on biweekly schedule; begin raising queens

Oct – Dec 2014 – Finalize reports; create outreach video

Jan – Mar 2015 – Attend meetings; write and submit articles; share video link with social media sites

Note: Spring weather is about three weeks behind this year due to an extremely long, cold, and windy winter and late temperature warm up. This delays the original project plans for drone comb rotations by about two weeks but should not drastically impact project outcomes.


I have been sharing information about the importance of drones and bees in the following ways:

1.) Organized and started a local bee club which averages 30 people per monthly meeting

2.) Attended a local elementary school where I introduced over 650 kids to the importance of bees.

3.) Provided an observation hive and materials for a local farm to use at their road side stand.

4.) Wrote several articles on drones for our local bee club blog. These were also posted on the club’s Facebook page. Over 1000 hits per month to the website and blog.

5.) Organized and hosted a bee event called “The Buzz.” Over 400 people attended to learn about bees.

6.) Assisted at the Purdue University Bee Lab Queen Rearing School. Over 30 people in attendance.

7.) Founded the Indiana Queen Breeder’s Association

8.) Participant in the Heartland Honey Bee Breeder’s Coop


In 2014/2015, the plan is to create a Youtube video about the importance of drones as the project’s final outreach.


Objectives/Performance Targets


Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes