In Ontario, several bee breeders have been selecting their stock for resistance traits since 1992. Being a part of a bee breeding program requires dedication, diligence, financial input, time and labour. Selecting bees for resistance traits within the ORHBS Program necessitates teamwork between the bee breeders of Ontario and the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association (OBA) Tech-Transfer Team. Meticulous record keeping, regular colony management, and proper scheduling are all requirements for a successful bee breeder. The breeders make initial selections for breeder colony potential, based on economic traits such as honey production, gentleness, overwintering ability and spring build-up. Selected colonies are tested in the OBA breeding program.
The Tech-Transfer Program visits each breeder to conduct the hygienic testing in Spring or Late Summer. Colonies scoring well in the hygienic behaviour test are screened for tracheal mite resistance when possible. Breeders provide a timely sample of these tested colonies to check for mites and disease. Queens from colonies exhibiting hygienic behaviour and mite/disease resistance are used as breeders for the next generation of bees. Queens produced by breeders are submitted for analysis to ensure they are well-mated and healthy.
Ontario bee breeders, beekeepers and the OBA Tech-Transfer Program consider the breeding program to be very important for the success of the beekeeping industry. Stock selection must occur each year to develop successive generations of bees with desirable traits. Maintenance of these successive generations is vital for a good breeding program.
If you are interested in joining the breeding program, please give the Tech-Transfer office a call at (519) 836-3609.
1. Maintenance of the Hygienic Trait in Ontario Bee Stocks
Honey bees that demonstrate hygienic behaviour are more tolerant to varroa mites and brood diseases than non-hygienic bees. The trait for hygienic behaviour is incorporated into the tracheal mite resistant bees to improve Ontario’s honey bee stocks. Hygienic behaviour is dependent on two separate tasks performed by the bees. One is uncapping the cells which contain dead brood and the other is removing the contents of these uncapped cells. The liquid nitrogen freeze kill bioassay distinguishes between these two traits. Cell content removal is the more important trait when selecting for hygienic behavior. Hygienic behavior is important for mite and disease resistance within a colony. Colonies which rank in Group 1 (>95% of killed brood cells removed) and Group 2 (75-95% of killed brood cells removed) are recommended for use as breeders for the subsequent generation.
2. Health Status of Colonies Tested in the Breeding Program
Honey bee health is important for the success of a bee breeding program. Honey bee stock that can manage diseases and pests naturally, without the use of antibiotics or chemicals is a main focus of the breeding program. Regular monitoring regimes provide a proper assessment of the honey bee health within an operation. At the time of testing, sample of adult bees (~50-100 bees) are collected to be assessed for tracheal mites and nosema spores. Pre-treatment samples of approximately 300 bees were collected from potential breeder colonies and stored in alcohol to be examined for the presence of varroa mites. . Bee breeders can make educated decisions about managing their operations more efficiently with this information.
3. Survey of the Quality of Honey Bee Queens from Ontario Breeders
Mated queens are received from participating bee breeders for evaluation. The queens and their attendants are evaluated for the presence of varroa mites, tracheal mites and nosema spore levels. The queens are also examined for physical damage and the mating success of the queens is assessed through an assessment of the number of sperm in the spermatheca and their viability.
It is a good management practice to maintain colonies with healthy, young queens. These colonies are more productive and better able to resist diseases and other stresses. The re-queening process is futile if new queens are not accepted by a colony or if they are superseded soon after introduction. The quality of a new queen will affect its acceptance. A diseased or a poorly mated queen will not be readily accepted and the colony will be unhealthy, unproductive or will not survive. Introducing an unhealthy queen can also transmit disease between beekeeping operations.
4. Maintenance of Tracheal Mite Resistant Honey Bee Stocks
The tracheal mite resistance bioassay is conducted to maintain the tracheal mite resistance trait that has been established in Ontario bee stocks. Bee breeders in Ontario consider the tracheal mite resistance bioassay to be a routine part of their breeding operations for each season. Breeders submit frames of emerging brood for tracheal mite resistance testing. Tagged bees are introduced into tracheal mite infested colonies, remain in the colonies for seven days and then are retrieved and sorted. The bees are then dissected and the number of migratory female mites in the tracheae is counted. Mite abundance and prevalence are calculated for each tested colony.