WCOBA Queen, Nuc & Drone Zone

Welcome to the WCOBA Queen, Nuc & Drone Zone

The continuous struggle to maintain  sustainable survivor honey bee colonies has become very difficult during the past several years in most areas of North America.  Many issues contribute to the problem.  Obtaining good locally adapted diverse queen and drone stock that provides resistance to the Varroa mite will greatly enhance survival rates and sustainable colonies.

To improve the stock genetics, reduce winter losses, increase yields, and maintain docile colony temperament, WCOBA has a goal of not obtaining honey bee stock south of the 36th parallel.  One of WCOBA's objectives is the development of a network of beekeepers within our ten county club area maintaining a pool of quality honey bee genetics.  This year WCOBA beekeepers will provide about 250 Nucs for members seeking bee colonies.. Currently over 50 beekeepers have experience with creating Nucs and managing queens.  In May of 2013 WCOBA is hosting Dr Larry Connor to hold a queen rearing class near Belle Center, Ohio to assist local beekeepers in improving queen rearing skills and developing genetic stocks for the WCOBA Queen, Drone & Nuc Project.  

Dr Stu Jacobson, coordinator of the Illinois Queen Initiative has given  permission to use his overview on some of his thoughts he gained while at the 2012 HAS.  Dr. Jacobson's article highlights some great insights and concerns affecting beekeepers both in Illinois and across the Northern and Midwestern states.

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Are Africanized Bees a Threat to Beekeeping in Illinois? - Dr. Stu Jacobson

Another talk that was informative was by Jerry Hayes, who now works for Monsanto in St. Louis.  As many of you know, until recently he was the chief apiary inspector in Florida, a state that will soon become completely Africanized.  Florida does have a number of queen and package producers and a number of you have probably ordered them in the past.  Prior to the African Honey Bee (AHB) arriving in Florida, the state of Texas had become almost entirely Africanized. Several years ago a Springfield area beekeeper ordered a package from Texas.  This colony proved to be highly defensive.  When the Illinois Department of Agriculture sent off samples of  the bees, the results came back that they weren’t Africanized.  End of story? Not really.  Jerry Hayes explained that the USDA only tests 10 worker bees, even though they ask people to send the a far larger sample.  Since a queen can mate with 20 or more drones, or about 12-16 on average, then 10 workers is not enough to determine whether or not there could be several thousand workers that are half-African.  When European queens mated with one or two African drones, that is enough to result in some very cross colonies. That’s because the hybrids are about as defensive as the pure Africans.  In addition, the hybrids can “stir up” their half sisters by releasing alarm pheromone as the drop of a hat.

Bringing in queens and packages from Africanized areas could potentially spell doom for beekeeping in all but remote sites in the state.  The IQI, the Illinois State Beekeepers Association and all Illinois beekeepers need to take the lead on this issue.  Jerry Hayes said that Florida provides a list of queen, nuc and package producers in Africanized areas.  Florida also have a list of Best Beekeeping Practices, which includes the warning that bringing in genetics from Africanized areas is a “serious mistake” (my words).  He said that if a Florida beekeeper were to ignore the warning and a neighbor were to bring suit due to a stinging incident, then the beekeeper should be ready to “open his wallet.”  Of course, the great danger to beekeeping (vs. the general public) would be that as a result of more stinging incidents, municipalities will pass restrictive laws, ones that are much more draconian that those many beekeepers have worked to get cities and towns to modify in favor of more liberal ones.

We need to educate beekeepers about the dangers of bringing in Africanized genetics.  Recently I spoke with a Chicago resident who had purchased a package from Texas last year.  He might as well have put up a neon sign saying “PLEASE SUE ME.”  Fortunately, the package died on its own.  We beekeepers cannot afford for that kind of thing to go on and the IQI should work with both the ISBA and the IDOA to educate and get in front of the curve, before an unfortunate stinging incident and the media hunger for news get ahead of us.  According to Jerry, the Florida- developed a set of Best Practices has been adopted by other S.E. states.  These could serve as a starting point for ones that Illinois adopts. It’s important to recognize that the danger from Africanized bees is not that they will spread here under their own devices.  Instead it is through they’re being brought into Illinois by beekeepers ignorant of the threat they represent. 

A year or two ago there was some web-based chatter in our state about the advantages of African genetics; probably due to their reputed resistance to Varroa. Their reported resistance is probably primarily on their frequent swarming, which confers a brood break each time it occurs.  That swarming, along with defensive behavior and their tendency to abscond when manipulated, as for example when trying to find the queen, are three of the major reasons why they are generally poor honey producers.  Lest you are beginning to think that I am exaggerating the danger that the AHB pose, I worked with these insects for a year in Venezuela and know whereof I speak.  They are awesome form a purely biological standpoint, but not something that any sane person would want inhabiting their beehives!

The answer to the threat that the AHB poses to Illinois is to avoid importing queens and bees from Sunbelt states, although not all of which are completely Africanized at this point.  Why would you want to take a chance playing with fire?  In the latest ABJ one Florida queen producer is advertising queens for $16 each.  It’s still hard for many beekeepers to pass up such a deal; at the same time at least some of us are selling queens at $25 each.  And, these queens may be coming from an area not yet Africanized. However, it is both to the benefit of Illinois beekeepers and to us as queen producers to help the beekeeping community understand that in the long run Sunbelt queens and bees are not a sustainable option.  Even packages from areas not Africanized yet may pose a threat.  According to Gabe Blatt, the West Virginia member of the Heartland Apicultural Society board, recently packages were brought into Georgia that had Texas queens.

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Please visit our forums for community discussions on queen rearing and Nucs.  These forums are a place to share your questions, answers and experiences with rearing queens, managing Nucs and improving the genetics of local bee stock.

 

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