i work with locally adapted stock that has been derived from feral colonies cut out from bee trees. i obtained this stock from a supplier who collected five colonies from the woods back in 1996. this was back when colonies were collapsing left and right as varroa had found its way here and was hitting with a vengeance. as everybody was loosing colonies, this beekeeper located and observed several colonies surviving in the nearby woods. he collected five of them and has been propagating them off treatments ever since. two of those five are viable to this day and have not required re-queening. the supplier maintains about 100 colonies most of which are used for nuc and queen production and a handful being kept for honey production. i have been working with them since 2010, and i am finding winter survival, temperament, and honey production are all very good with these bees.
after learning that feral bees were being studied and some of them were found to have maternal ancestry other than what is used commercially in the u.s., (namely the mitochondrial m and o lines vs. the c lines), i became interested in trying to find the lineage of these bees. randy oliver suggested that i contact allen szalanski at the university of arkansas who has been studying the genetics of feral bees. i did, and he graciously agreed to the test the mitochondrial dna from four samples.
i received the results yesterday, and it turns out that all four samples were found to be of c1 lineage which is the one most commonly found in u.s. stock. so these are neither africanized nor are they derived from the earlier lineages that precede what is being used commercially today.
this is interesting to me as it suggests that the genetic lines in common use can develop survival and resistance traits. it is possible that these colonies are receiving genes/traits from the other lines via drone contribution and there are the environmental factors to consider as well. the safest assumption is that it a combination of factors involved and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if their performance varied in different parts of the country.
my next step in trying to learn about what may or may not be special about these bees is to send queens to baton rouge for study and that they might be able to quantify resistant behaviors.