About Us

SHCG logoThe Swindon Honeybee Conservation Group (SHCG) based in Wiltshire, was formally founded by me, Ron Hoskins, in 2004 though actually commenced before 1995 when I discovered that most chemicals being used by beekeepers to control Varroa mite numbers were having an adverse effect on the viability of the drone semen.

I learned my beekeeping many years ago (1943) but only the years following the arrival of  Varroa in 1992 have been the most testing, for the beekeeper and bees alike.

I’ve given a large number of talks in the UK, Norway and in Australia,.  Been on UK and International Radio and TV, explaining our research and the work we do in Swindon to produce bees able to co-exist with Varroa — and will survive — without the use of chemicals.

In 1995 I made the decision to stop the use of chemicals used by most beekeepers to control the Varroa mite numbers. I realised the chemicals were causing problems. This decision came from the knowledge that most chemicals used at that time, and which are still being used, were the major cause of queen failure due to their adverse effect on the viability of drone semen and the life of drones. Queens instrumentally inseminated by me were being superseded within a few weeks of introduction. The only procedural change to my beekeeping at the time was the use of chemicals. Therefore, chemicals had to go.

I had already discovered that some of my bees were actively grooming mites from each other. I did not understand why they would be doing this. Was it something they had learned to do or was nature taking over by natural evolution?  By swapping queens around I was able to prove the grooming ability was genetic and not simply a learned ability. Over the following years I have been able to selectively breed Varroa Tolerant Honeybees. This now forms a major part of the work by SHCG, however…in …

New discoveries were made. You must first understand a bit about the methods of breeding by the Honeybee and the Varroa mite.

The Bee: An egg is laid by the queen bee in one of the honeycomb cells. Four days later the egg hatches and worker bees begin feeding the new baby, known as larvae at this stage. During the next five days each larva will grow about 450 times its original body weight. The cell is then capped over with a porous wax cover in order the larval bee will be able to breathe.

The Varroa: During the bees five days at larvae stage a female adult varroa mite will enter the cell to lay her eggs on the bee larva. She will create a wound on the baby bee for her ‘blood-sucking’ babies to feed from. She must keep the wound open during the several moults the larval bee goes through during its pupation to become a bee with legs and wings etc. When the baby bee exits the cell the mother Varroa and her new young adult females will exit with her. The young mites will have mated with a brother in the cell where he then dies. Each Varroa will now attach themselves to an adult bee for a few days until they find their way into another larval bee cell to start their own new family. Whilst attached to the adult bee is mostly when the bee-grooming of adult Varroa is taking place, however …

One of my colonies was discovered where worker bees appeared able to detect that Varroa were breeding within the capped larval cells. The worker bees were uncapping these brood cells prematurely and evicting the bee pupae from the hive. This removal also causes tiny baby Varroa to fall off; a major setback to the breeding cycle of Varroa.

I now believe the reason behind the uncapping is the odour given off from the wound created around ten days earlier by ‘mother’ Varroa for her offspring to feed. She has kept the wound open during a number of moults. The wound now begins to give off an odour which workers see as a threat to the health of their colony and are removing that threat. I do not believe that this uncapping and removal is directly connected to Varroa activity as all uncapping always takes place around the pupae Purple-eye stage. Uncapping would probably take place much earlier when Varroa were detected within the cell.

I believe this uncapping to be a simple case of super- hygienic bees doing what they have become good at. We at SHCG have turned that to our advantage and such bees are now included high in our breeding programs.

Over the years lots of drones have been bred from our most hygienic colonies to add their genes to the local gene pool. By late summer 2009 checks for hygienic behaviour showed most of our hives were now uncapping cells and removing the damaged baby bees.

For the more information about our research visit My Research page.

 Ron Hoskins