Pennsylvania queen bee improvement program and the Heartland Honey Bee Breeders Coop: Testing for mite-biting behavior

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2015: $14,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Grant Recipient: Always Summer Herbs
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Jeffrey Berta
Always Summer Herbs

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: genetics
  • Pest Management: genetic resistance

    Proposal summary:

    Varroa mites are the single greatest threat to sustainable beekeeping in the Northeastern US, and across the world. This project will measure a recently identified novel grooming behavior, Mite-Biting Behavior (MBB), and its relationship to overall mite counts. If MBB can reduce mite counts, it will increase the sustainability of beekeeping by reducing the use of miticides to control varroa populations and the associated labor inputs. This project will involve queen breeders, bee clubs and beekeepers in several states, as well as two universities and the extension service. Several recent SARE grants in the Northeast and North Central regions measured varroa sensitive hygienic behavior (VSH) and proved it value for mite resistance. This project will build on that existing work, and incorporate the new grooming behavior MBB, and measure its effects.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our objective is to measure the relationship between mite-biting behavior (MBB) and the total mite count in honeybee colonies. MBB is a new and novel grooming behavior, and is defined by a honeybee biting one or more legs off of a Varroa mite. This will yield measurable results, and a potential tool for breeding selections. 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. 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 72 hours, (3) the mites are scraped off of the bottom board into a container. And then the second component is evaluation: (4) sift through the contents and pick out the mites, (5) glue/set the mites "legs up" on a glass microscope slide/petri dish, and count them, (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 mite/ 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 will compared: 1) PA-bred queens Artificially Inseminated with semen from MBB stocks raised in Purdue 2) queens from best local survivor stock in the HHBBC (3) queens obtained from commercial package breeders in the Southeast US, which has not been selected for any traits. These studies will allow us to determine if the MBB traits is associated with reduced mite loads and overwintering success, and if breeding for the MBB trait is feasible. The beeyards locations planned to be in the HHBBC members respective states: J Berta PA, M Gingrich PA, Dan O'Hanlon WV, D Wells OH, and D Schenefeld IN. Each yard will include 4 colonies from each group.


    The project will begin March 2015 and end one year later. The time table, responsibilities and durations are listed: March 1-30 Contract finalized and supplies ordered, participants notified of award and duties.-J Berta April 1-30 Start preparing/feeding bee colonies for queen rearing, purchase additional nucleus colonies to make up for shortfalls from winter kill. J Berta, HHBBC, May 1-June 5 Begin queen rearing of virgins and mated queens for project. J Berta, HHBBC, and all participants June 10-12 Bring virgins to Purdue University for Artificial Insemination with MBB semen. J Berta, HHBBC, June 13-25 Nurture AI queens which will be the MBB test group, and additionally, start grafting eggs as soon queens start to lay for the subsequent workshop. Start preparing “48 hour” old queen cells for queen exchange workshop. J Berta, M Gingrich, D Wells, HHBBC, and local bee clubs from Pa State Beekeepers Assoc (PSBA) , June 25-July 31 Produce and mate queens from the HHBBC local survivor stock , MBB stock for project hives, and start project hives. J Berta, HHBBC, and all participants August 1-21 Balance all project colonies so all study groups are adequately represented. J Berta, HHBBC, and all project participants August 24-October15 Collect samples of mites from project colonies, and measure MBB percentages. Mite samples will be collected at at least three time points. J Berta, HHBBC, and all beeyard participants. October 1- November 12 Finish any final data collection as needed and prepare colonies for winter. Best performing breeding stock is moved into special protective styrofoam hive boxes to assure Winter survival for future breeding. J Berta, HHBBC, and all beeyards participants. November 15-December 31 Write annual report, and feed colonies as required. J Berta report writing, HHBBC, and all project participants feed of colonies. January 1- March 1 2016 Feed colonies as need, record Winter kill percentages, write final report. J. Berta & Tech advisor C. Grozinger.

    June 27-28 OUTREACH workshop to exchange and distribute virgin queen cells to participants. PSBA bee clubs, J Berta, HHBBC
    August 22-23 OUTREACH queen exchange at the PSBA annual picnic. PSBA, M Gingrich, J Berta, HHBBC, and bee clubs.
    Nov 13-14 OUTREACH PSBA annual meeting, present update to over 100 beekeepers. J Berta M Gingrich

    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.