Improving and sustaining varroa and disease resistance using your current local honey bee queen stock

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2024: $29,956.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2026
Grant Recipient: Combs Bee Farm
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Joshua Combs
Combs Bee Farm


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: beekeeping

    Proposal summary:

    The Varroa Destructor mite and the dependency on commercially
    produced mite-a-cides are currently the biggest threats facing
    honey bee colonies.  Currently, the treatments that are
    available to manage these mites are failing because the mites are
    starting to show resistance within colonies and the price of the
    theses treatments on the market are not cost effective. The fact
    that we could have to to treat up to 4 or 5 times a year is not
    sustainable considering the cost of labor, treatment, fuel and
    loss of honey production.  Most commercial queen stock
    produced in the USA has little to no resistance to the varroa
    mites.  The current method of selecting breeder queen traits
    that reduce varroa numbers is time consuming, expensive and very
    tedious work.  The work is usually performed by a team of
    very skilled people, taking days to gather data to evaluate the
    colonies for resistance traits.  Examples have shown that
    breeder queens that produce varroa resistant stock are currently
    very expensive, with some selling for hundreds of dollars.
     Inseminated queens have sold for as much as $1200 each
    which is not sustainable.  

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We are going to use UBeeO by Optera as our selection tool for
    this project. UBeeO is a rapid pheromone-based hygenic assay that
    measures and predicts mite and disease resistance based on a
    colony’s hygenic response to UBeeO pheromone mix when applied to
    and area of capped brood cells. This mix is synthesized based on
    unhealthy brood odors naturally produced by diseased or
    parasitized brood that can trigger patrolling nurses to perform
    hygenic behavior. Once the UBeeO mix is sprayed onto a small test
    area of capped brood cells, a colony has two hours to respond by
    uncapping treated cells in the test area. The more cells uncapped
    by the colony, the higher the UBeeO score. UBeeO scores are
    broken down into three categories: Low(0-39%). Medium(40-59%),
    High(60-100%). The current methods used to evaluate colony’s
    varroa and disease restance requires very skilled people taking
    days to gather and evaluate  for resistant traits. We will
    use this assay to evaluate approximately 100 colonies in our
    operation to find the colonies that score the highest in
    resistance traits. We will then setup 125 queen mating boxes and
    cell builders with bulk bees purchased from another apiary that
    can supply bees earlier in the spring. These cell builders will
    be used to raise daughters to then be open mated from those
    selected queen mothers and requeen all of the satellite colonies
    in a 3 mile radius around the mating yard that we will use to
    produce the drones. We then will wait 7 weeks for the colony
    population to have the new traits from the new queen mother and
    then evaluate the colonies that have the first round of newly
    mated queens that we selected from the UBeeO assay. Then we will
    set up cell builders again with the queens that scored highest on
    the second assay and raise another round of queens and requeen
    all the colonies again in the 3 mile radius. We will then retest
    all the colonies again after 7 weeks using OBeeO and compare the
    scores to the first ones. We will also monitor the colonies
    through the season with alcohol washes and record mite counts and
    treatments as needed. We will repeat this process the following
    year and record the findings.

    Our goal is to produce and sustain our own adapted queen stock
    within our operation that will need minimal if any varroa or
    disease treatments Therefore, reducing costly and sometimes
    ineffective mite treatments and having healthier bees to produce
    higher honey yields and eliminate the need for expensive breeder
    queens and to have the tools and ability to raise and maintain
    resistant stock within your own apiary. We also want to see how
    high of a UBeeO assay score average can be achieved in the time
    allotted for this research project in the research area.

    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.