Why Russian Honey Bees
Why Russian Honey Bees? By now you have almost certainly heard of the mysterious disappearance of our honey bees given the name Colony Collapse Disorder by leading scientists. While researchers are looking for the causes, honey bee populations around the world continue to decline at alarming rates. Given that more than a third of our food supply is dependent on pollination by honey bees, it is not an exaggeration to say that we have the potential for a major agricultural disaster. While there are many research programs, I focus on Russian Honey Bees. Russian Honey Bees have been studied and tested by the USDA for almost two decades. Russia went through the alarming loss of bees for decades and decades until the Russian Honey Bee modified its behavior and protected themselves from the mites. Not only will the queen not lay when the mites are present starving out the enemy but the honey bees groom themselves. The Russian Honey Bees are the only bees known to groom each other. The best long-term solution for both domestic and feral honey bees, experts say, is to fortify them with mite-resistance traits whether from Russian or other bee stock. The Russian bee, one of the newer bee stocks in the U.S. was imported from far-eastern Russia by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The researcher’s logic was that these bees from the Primorski region on the Sea of Japan, have coexisted for the last 150 years with the devastating parasite Varroa destructor, a mite that is responsible for severe colony losses around the globe, and they might thrive in the U.S. The USDA tested whether this stock had evolved resistance to varroa and found that it had. Numerous studies have shown that bees of this strain have fewer than half the number of mites that are found in standard commercial stocks. The quarantine phase of this project has been complete since 2000, and bees of this strain are available commercially. Russian bees tend to rear brood only during times of nectar and pollen flows, so brood rearing and colony populations tend to fluctuate with the environment. They also exhibit good housecleaning behavior, resulting in resistance not only to varroa but also to the tracheal mite. Bees of this stock exhibit some unusual behaviors compared to other strains. For example, they tend to have queen cells present in their colonies almost all the time, whereas most other stocks rear queens only during times of swarming or queen replacement. Russian bees also perform better when not in the presence of other bee strains; research has shown that cross-contamination from susceptible stocks can lessen the varroa resistance of these bees.