Hygienic Bees

The Swindon Honeybee Conservation Group (SHCG) is based in North Wiltshire. We have achieved major successes in breeding honeybees which are now able to co-exist with the Varroa mite which is currently devastating the honeybee population throughout most of the world.

As I update this in 2018 it is twenty-six years since Varroa mites were first discovered in Devon. Unfortunately these nasty little blood sucking creatures are here to stay. They cannot be eradicated but their numbers can be lowered to a level where they may not present such a major problem.

Also unfortunate is that most beekeepers around the world have resorted to the use of chemicals to lower Varroa numbers and appear reluctant to stop chemical use for fear of losing their bees. Various chemicals are still being regularly applied by beekeepers. Some beekeepers are also culling large numbers of drone bees before they emerge in order to destroy any varroa in the act of breeding. The Varroa breeding method is explained in About Us.

Surely we must recognise that honeybees have faced similar threats many times during their millions of years existence? The bees are still with us so must have found a way to deal with such threats by themselves. They will do so again. Mine already have. They found a way when I would not apply toxic chemicals on them. I have offered some help to speed up their survival by selective breeding of queens but they led the way and I only followed.

By 1995 I had discovered that one colony of my bees were actively grooming each other to rid themselves of mites. When looking at their dead Varroa under a dissecting microscope the grooming becomes obvious by the damage seen to the Varroa carapace on some and legs removed on others. See pictures in the  My Research page.

The National Bee Unit (DEFRA) and BBKA continue to encourage drone culling as a means of Non-chemical Varroa control but should they?.

In 2014 DEFRA announced that their bee inspectors were reporting increased Varroa populations caused by the previous very mild winter . They issued an advisory email indicating that “If 5 mites are found on 100 uncapped drones it should be treated as a serious Varroa infestation“. I read that as killing 95% of drones unnecessarily; drones which are badly needed to mate with new queens. This concerns me very much as this email actually suggests to me that in normal times when culling drones the number of Varroa mites found must surely being less than 5%. Is this not a serious waste of  much needed drones and their genetic diversity. Is it any wonder that we continually hear  “My queen has stopped laying fertilised eggs” or “I have a young queen but my bees keep making queen cells“. Their queens may not have been able to mate properly due to the lack of available drones.

Over the past twenty-two years our breeding and assessment programs have enabled us to increase our stocks of these hygienic bees without the use of any chemical. Our aim now is to selectively breed lots of queens from the very best of our hygienic bees and use them to spread their genetic abilities. Hopefully this may one day cause beekeepers to feel it is now safe to stop using chemicals.  Some of our swarms, if not collected, will be able to survive in the wild, eventually restoring feral honeybees in remote areas where there are no feral bees and possibly no local beekeepers.

 

Ron Hoskins

 

Read more about the later developments and progress in the About Us page.