Varroa mites are the single greatest threat to sustainable beekeeping in the Northeastern US, and across the world. Despite extension efforts to convince backyard beekeepers to monitor and treat using known safe miticides, most hobbyist (~60%) chose inaction/wishful thinking resulting in their colony losses to be about twice that of commercial beekeepers (Van Engelsdorp 2011 beeinformed.org). So, changing beekeeper behavior is as important as the methods to manage Varroa.
A new novel genetic trait described by Dr. Hunt from Purdue (SARE LNC08-295 2008-2011) is Mite-Biting Behavior (MBB). The MBB trait is when the honeybees bite off one or more legs from a Varroa mite; bitten mites will then bleed to death.
A 2015 SARE (FNE15-819) grant measured MBB vs total mite count, an unexpected discovery was made, we found they had better overwintering success. During 2017 SARE (FNE17-836) we discovered that the Purdue stock made more honey than the others. Increased winter survival and honey production both increase sustainability of beekeeping, by reducing replacement costs, and honey sales.
The majority of Hobbyist are either unaware of the need and or are unwilling to use mite controls, which is why there is a urgent need for the adoption of mite-resistant/MBB genetics. Using a blind survey, we will distribute a pair of queens, a MBB and a Control, to 100 participants in several states. We will collect survey data from them via email/website.
This project will involve queen breeders, beekeepers in three states, and two universities and their extension services.
Project objectives from proposal:
Our objective is to change the behavior of 100 hobbyist beekeepers by having them compare colonies with queens from a MBB/mite-resistant stock versus a Control.
MBB is an effective grooming behavior, but yet to be adopted by hobbyist beekeepers as an effective and practical tool, along with monitoring and treatment strategies for controlling/reducing Varroa mite populations. By giving these beekeepers hands-on experience of measuring mite levels, honey production, chewing behavior and winter survival, they will change their attitudes about the need for monitoring and mite management. The study will take place in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, and cooperation with Penn State, Purdue and Heartland Honey Bee Breeders Coop (HHBBC)