Honey Bee Mating Control and Production Cost Analysis In Africanized Regions Using Instrumental Insemination

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $20,000.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Jaime de Zubeldia
Region: Western
State: Arizona
Principal Investigator:
Jaime de Zubeldia
Jaime de Zubeldia


  • Animals: bees
  • Animal Products: honey, pollen, beeswax, queens, packages, nucleus colonies, pollination services


  • Animal Production: genetics, livestock breeding, parasite control, preventive practices
  • Crop Production: beekeeping, pollination
  • Education and Training: decision support system, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: business planning, risk management, whole farm planning, process cost reduction
  • Natural Resources/Environment: pollinator health, extreme climate adaptation
  • Pest Management: biological control, cultural control, economic threshold, genetic resistance, integrated pest management, physical control

    Proposal summary:

    The Africanized honey bee hybrid possesses traits that continue to challenge beekeeper maintenance of gentle European honey bees. Since 1993 Africanization of European honey bees in the southwestern United States has severely diminished the number of hobby and commercial beekeepers (1). The arrival of disease vectoring Varroa mites has further exacerbated the loss of managed and wild European honey bee colonies.
    The number of managed colonies in Arizona decreased from 55,000 to 35,000 colonies in a ten-year span (1993-2003) per USDA statistics (9). Ten years later national honey production increased 5% while Arizona’s production lagged at 3%. Since these figures account for the entire state, it is highly likely that southern Arizona faired far worse - the likelihood of Africanization is more substantial in the lower half of the state due to geographic and climate factors.
    Commercial pollination frequently involves transporting colonies to warmer locations in the southern United States to ‘over-winter’ where defensive colonies reside. European colonies used for pollination are at risk of being taken over by Africanized swarms through a process called usurpation. Keeping honey bee colonies gentle increases safety, and saves time when moving and inspecting colonies for pollination
    Hives that have become Africanized may not readily accept queens of a different strain. An accepted anecdotal observation of Africanized honey bees is they tend to reject requeening efforts by beekeepers, superceding European queens within the first year of introduction. This makes the act of requeening hives more time consuming and expensive as additional queens may be needed before a hive is successfully requeened.
    Beekeepers in Arizona rely on a volatile supply of imported queens for requeening needs. Honey bee packages and queens need to arrive in Arizona in early to mid-March. Currently packages and queens arriving from out-of-state tend to arrive in mid-April or later, just as hot summer weather diminishes nectar and pollen resources. This contributes to a several month delay in hive development compared to other
    temperate regions.
    Despite rising demand for honey bees in southern Arizona queen and honey bee production by local beekeepers for the local market is almost non-existent due to these challenges.
    Through partial mating control, efforts to reduce problems associated with Africanization have been successful yet limited (4). Traditionally, beekeepers maximize successful queen mating with European male honey bees (drones) by flooding a mating area with high
    drone populations from strategically placed hives containing European honey bees. This “open-mating” method has proven useful, but it’s not 100% successful, it’s expensive and labor intensive. Controlling the drone type and quality in an open-mating system also requires suitable space – several hundred acres or more – which is becoming difficult to find and negotiate.
    Studies indicate that defensive behavior is likely paternally inherited. Therefore, controlling the source of drone semen is essential in producing a gentle honey bee (7). In a personal communication with Dr. Ernesto Guzman-Novoa, Department of Environmental Biology at University of Guelph, Ontario, he confirmed that a fully-controlled mating study using instrumental insemination to develop a gentle strain of Africanized honey bee - using only selected gentle Africanized parents - has not been attempted (11).
    Honey bees found in the wild without a recent history of beekeeper influence, and that have demonstrated survivability amidst waves of pests and diseases, are said to be a “survivor” strain. Recent research and several years of observing the results of selecting from our own survivor strains of Africanized stock suggests that a gentle Africanized strain of honey bee can be further developed (5). This, while retaining their improved grooming behaviors and Varroa mite resistance. Consequently, chemical treatments to mitigate pests can be reduced or eliminated.
    However, our current methods of minimizing the influence of defensive Africanized honey bees are insufficient to supply queen bees to regional beekeepers on a commercial scale, or to contract hives for crop pollination. These are two markets that we would like to participate in.
    ReZoNation Farm would like to obtain instrumental insemination training and equipment to establish on-farm propagation of European queen replacement stock, and eliminate the influence of Africanized honey bee strains in a significant percentage of our apiaries. In
    addition, ReZoNation Farm seeks to use instrumental insemination training and equipment to determine whether we can accelerate development of our existing gentle Africanized honey bee survivor strain. Together, these objectives may enable us to supply region-specific breeder queens needed for ongoing replacement of queens on honey bee farms.
    We expect to measure a significant reduction in costs due to the time savings of using instrumental insemination. We also expect to develop a production model specific to our region that could be used in beekeeping communities with similar constraints where
    Africanization persists in warmer parts of the country.
    By training over 375 people in beekeeping techniques since 2008, ReZoNation Farm has been active in encouraging the selection of gentle honey bees. Through these trainings, internet presence, and meetings with beekeeping associations, the methods and results of this work will be shared. In the future, we would like to supply queens and bees to our region, and spearhead a collaborative effort to develop gentle survivor honey bee strains in all Africanized regions.
    Controlled mating using instrumental insemination could substantially improve public safety because it maximizes the distribution and likelihood of gentle drones and queens mating with unmanaged defensive colonies beyond city boundaries.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The objectives of this project are to:
    1) Obtain instrumental insemination training and equipment to establish on-farm propagation of European queen replacement stock, and to minimize influence of defensive Africanized honey bees in our existing apiaries.
    Measurable outcomes
    a) Produce instrumentally inseminated European daughter queens: 20 by November 1st, 2017, 60 by November 1st 2018, and 20 by
    April of 2019.
    b) Report difficulties and measures taken to maintain European queen genetics in hives.
    c) Estimate number of hives lost from Varroa mite influence.
    2) Use instrumental insemination training and equipment to increase the predictability of targeted inherited traits, and increase the selection speed of our gentle Africanized honey bee survivor strain.
    Measurable outcomes
    a) Compare characteristics between a random selection of open-mated Africanized hives, and instrumentally inseminated Africanized hives. Measurable characteristics include: honey produced, brood rearing, and level of runny/nervous/flighty behavior and stinging
    tendency (8).
    b) Produce instrumentally inseminated gentle Africanized daughter queens: 10 by November 1st, 2017, 30 by November 1st 2018, and 10 by April of 2019.
    c) Record the number of hives decommissioned in open-mated and instrumentally inseminated groups due to defensive temperament.
    d) Record number of hives lost from Varroa mite influence.
    3) Determine cost savings generated by using instrumental insemination technology, and evaluate whether a regional honey bee improvement program and local distribution of queens and nucleus hives are feasible.
    Measurable outcomes
    a) Estimate cost differences between mating methods
    b) Estimate cost differences resulting from temperament and disease resistance differences between European and gentle Africanized strains.
    c) Evaluate reliability of inherited behavioral and production characteristics.
    d) Estimate change in operation size due to instrumental insemination use.
    e) Record number of regional beekeepers educated about this project, and score responses to evaluate feasibility of a regional honey bee improvement program.
    Feb-Mar 2017 Select top 10% of gentle Africanized survivor queens for instrumental insemination using semen from gentle survivor Africanized drones.
    April-June 2017 Acquire instrumental insemination equipment and training. Develop data collection sheets.
    May-Oct 2017 Acquire commercially supplied breeder queens. Produce instrumentally inseminated European and gentle Africanized queen daughters.
    May-Oct 2017 Record time and process savings due to instrumental insemination vs open-mating. Continue monitoring for temperament, production, and Varroa mite levels.
    Oct-Jan 2017 Conduct outreach to producers and community stakeholders.
    Mar-Oct 2018 Produce instrumentally inseminated European and gentle Africanized queen daughters.
    April 2018 1st Year Report
    Mar-Oct 2018 Record time and process savings due to instrumental insemination vs open-mating. Continue monitoring for temperament, production, and Varroa mite levels.
    Oct-Jan 2018 Conduct outreach to producers and community stakeholders.
    Feb-April 2019 Produce instrumentally inseminated European and gentle Africanized queen daughters.
    April 2019 Final Report.
    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.