AHBs as Pests -- Pros and Cons
I had already been keeping, for several years, what I believe were AHB's (and they probably were), then I found out about mites, Varroa and tracheal, also Nosema ceranae. I also heard how I could expect to lose colonies, if I didn't use treatments to kill Varroa mites and reduce their population. Word was, that after two or three years my colonies would expire if not treated to reduce Varroa mite populations. I've never 'treated' - then or now. It had already been at least five years, and I hadn't lost a single hive, yet. It's been more than twenty years now, I still haven't treated, or lost any hives.
Sure makes me think that the need for Varroa treatments is overrated - to say the least. I know this suggestion may be highly controversial, but perhaps the interaction(s) between bees, treatments, and mites, are what results in lost colonies, it may not simply be colonies reacting to the presence of mites, but the presence of mites and toxic mite treatment compounds (maybe a backlash effect). Might some losses commonly attributed to Varroa, be partially the result of backlash from earlier mite treatments and toxic chemicals present in the combs. My bees had and still have Varroa mites, and now that they've been EHB for more than a decade, apparently it isn't only AHB that can tolerate/resist mites.
Some, who have heard me relate these experiences, somehow believe that AHB genetics may somehow be responsible for this Varroa tolerance. This may be true, but using EHB bees with the Cordovan color trait, I endeavor to keep AHB genetics out of my hives. If AHB genetics are nevertheless responsible for what I experience, perhaps I should plan to somehow market these bees.
Re: AHBs as Pests -- Pros and Cons
Well the AHB hives I have are dang near fool proof LOL. After going to California and putting my bees into the frying pan of everything under the sun I can tell you that everything that I suspected of having AHB genetics was in tip top shape. I certainly have not treated like my big commercial buddies have but treated a little bit. I have lost some hives due to different things, most likely mites and nosema but my biggest problem is Bears. I must say the AHB colonies even have a resistance to them as well. The problem I have found is that anything that has just a little AHB can be very aggressive some days and those that are full AHB will run people out of a bee yard and kill horses. One guy took a AHB hive I was given out in California and all of his guys left the yard when they started working it. There is some good potential with them if a person could get enough full blown AHB colonies to selectively breed the most docile I think it could work but after speaking to Dr. Russell on the subject it is a very difficult task and so I have slowly been requeening those AHB colonies. I have three Italian queens that are two years old now and have booming hives every since Almonds. So I think good genetics is vital. More so is the tracking of those genetics. Some individuals pass on key genetics more readily than others and some parental combinations also pass on these key genetics more readily. So I feel that the tracking of genetic lines would be greatly beneficial in the industry. The other key principle I feel is needed is selecting genetic lines that have been not only time tested but exposure tested. In the cattle industry buyers tend to prefer cattle from Florida due to the fact that they have been exposed to nearly everything so when they get mixed with other cattle in the feed yards they stay healthier than cattle from other locations that have little exposure. My bees have been to the Almonds orchards and around thousands of other colonies. This summer they have been within a few miles of other beekeepers colonies who also pollinate almonds and possibly other crops as well. So the exposure rate this year has been huge in my opinion. I think I have some good genetic material to select from now it is just a matter of coming up with the money to keep things going and intensify my breeding program for myself.
Re: AHBs as Pests -- Pros and Cons
I have normal hives in the USA, with feral, Italian, some carnies, and God knows what else, I just love them all, even the ones that attack me once in a while. But, I also have bees in Mexico where Africanization of previously domesticated and docile colonies is officially taken over the beekeeping industry. It is a great concern in Mexico and Mexicans authorities claim to have lost a good percentage of beekeepers due to how aggressive these bees are, and how dangerous they can be to the animals and humans. It is to the point where the Mexican Government has certified apiaries with proven genetics that have no Africanized genetics, and, if you buy from those apiaries, you get queens for about 4 dollars each, as an effort to control the africanization of hives.
I have them, I work them and I enjoy their productivity and resistance to harsh weather or pest; but, having a potentially lethal army of insects that want to kill you and everything that approaches the nest, is just too much for me. Sometimes after working the hives for a long period of time, you end up with your gloves and beekeeping suit looking like prick pears due to the stingers.
On the other hand, I had some cows that just would not respect the regular barbwire fences, they would just walk over it and go into the neighbors and feed on their corn or beans; I had to pay for a few acres of damaged fields. I needed to install an electric fence but there is no electricity there, so a solar fence was about the only option. The location is remote and something like that, although in the USA is common equipment, in that remote area of Mexico is not, so I think lots of people would like to just have my equipment. So, I set up a dummy box, with a window for the solar collector and the equipment; install a nice 3 box colony on top, and one on each side. The small wires just barely visible come out of the box and into the perimeter; solving the problem with my crazy cows. Now, the rumor around town is that I have an electric fence that is being powered by mean aggressive bees. Those bees keep potential burglars away, cows inside property lines, and honest people, honest.
Re: AHBs as Pests -- Pros and Cons
Funny story about your bee powered electric fence :)
Most of the feral hives I remove test out as having some amount of AHB in them. Nothing can kill them - hardy little bees. Too bad they like to make more bees than honey. They will make you honey if you feed them drawn comb, but I have found they don't like to expand their nest size too much. They can be really testy too. Don't be knocking around the hive boxes, that's for sure. Fortunately, what we see in my area is mostly genetically weak hybrids, and true AHB are fairly rare. The hybrids are usually not too ill behaved. I would say about 1 in 6 is truly aggressive. Most of them are just nervous, unproductive, or runny.
I once had a two deep hive of them that contained the equivalent of 4 deeps of bees in it. It was a truly terrifying number of bees. They were never really aggressive to me unless I was rough with them, but it was greatly un-nerving to work with them as they would climb and festoon off your arms and legs as you manipulated them, and crawl all over the ground like roaches. It felt like you were dealing with a ticking time bomb. I let them make me honey for the season and requeened them with a queen from Michabees ;) - who was much better behaved. They would not move up into the next box no matter how many empties you gave them. They just kept making bees and filling drawn comb.
I think that if people just keep breeding the aggressive, nervous, runny, and unproductive out of the feral bees - without regard to genetic origin, the concerns about AHB will slowly go away. They have been near the NM-Mexico border for years and it has been much less an issue than you would think. Now, down in Mexico, that's prime Tropical bee territory. The US, not so much. I have a special yard I put these bees in and usually keep the more docile ones around for a bit until I get around to finding them a new queen - usually in the Fall. I have some bees that seem to harbor a lot of "Black Bee" in them and they are much worse in my eyes. Those little girls are chase down the chickens and kill the family dog mean. They usually end up in their own special place too.
And Joseph, I have found most of the bees here in my area of NM don't seem to need much as far as treatments go. I hardly even worry about Varroa. Maybe it is the African that was already in New Mexico bees before the AHB showed up? Between Apis Iberiensis, Intermissa, Mellferia, Lamarckii, Adonsai, and Scutellata our bees have quite a diverse heritage.