Bee genetics
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Thread: Bee genetics

  1. #1
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    Default Bee genetics

    I've come across some people arguing to use bee swarms, rather than to buy queen bees. The argument was that, bee swarms have grown strong enough to be able to split off and adapt to one's local environment, whereas queens are often enough not suitable for such and tend to under perform in comparison.

    At least here in my part of Australia, people like buying queen bees from the local bee sanctuary, Kangaroo Island, which houses a pure strain of Ligurian Bee.

    Now I'm wanting to split a number of my hives to expand my operation. I have one hive that's probably the most productive of the lot (could just be because it's the oldest most established), and it's also by far the most aggressive hive. I figure that, in spite of how productive they are, I don't wish to duplicate such aggressive bees and if anything, I should try to replace the queen with more gentler genetics. I've thought about finding the queen and squishing her, then take out all the frames that have eggs/young larvae in them, and replace them with eggs/young larvae from hives that have more desired traits. I figure I can do this with any beehive that has undesirable characteristics. A number of my hives don't ever seem to perform too well. It's difficult to tell if it's just due to their current circumstances, that they just need more time, or whether the genetics of the bees is not as strong.

    This is all a pretty fascinating topic. How do you guys manage the genetics of your bees?

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    I'm super simple. I split my colonies into two groups: good, not so good. I raise queens from the good pile and cull the not so good pile. I'm not sure I'd go so far to say I'm managing the genetics, just selecting for meta traits I personally want.

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    I think the argument to raise queens from your own stock as opposed to buying them from somewhere halfway across the country is pretty sound. There's a saying goes something like this, "a queen from the best stock raised in average conditions will be an average queen. But a queen from average stock raised in the best conditions (lots food and nurse bees) will be one of the greats." That's not word for word but you get the idea.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    Quote Originally Posted by vtbeeguy View Post
    I think the argument to raise queens from your own stock as opposed to buying them from somewhere halfway across the country is pretty sound. There's a saying goes something like this, "a queen from the best stock raised in average conditions will be an average queen. But a queen from average stock raised in the best conditions (lots food and nurse bees) will be one of the greats." That's not word for word but you get the idea.
    I swap with beekeepers I know and trust so I have a good introduction of new queens. Unless you raise queens at an industrial level or use AI I'm not sure you can control genetics that much, I just hope some of the traits I like carry through to the daughters - its a mixed bag.

    But as you saying raising your local average stock with care works well, it has had great benefits for me. And Queen rearing is just fun as well.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    A colony will swarm when their hive area is too crowded. It doesn't have to have much to do with a health strength of a colony. But, a swarm is a new colony of bees geared towards building up fast, so they can be good wax builders to establish a new location.

    The ideal way to grow a specific line of bee queens in your own apiary would be to make up a starter and finisher hive and graft from your best queens. You'd have to read up about that.

    Another way would be to take your best hive and let it build up to warm mode, then remove the queen with a nuc of bees, and make more nucs with all the queen cells that have been made in the colony. You have a small window of time to catch them in the right stage of swarm mode, so that's a risky approach. I wouldn't recommend that unless you can follow the swarm prep signs, know the timing of making cells and swarming, and you have plenty of time to keep track of them. If you don't see the initial signs, a colony can swarm within a week or maybe less of starting queen cells. A swarm can happen fast and you'd loose a good queen.

    Another way would be to remove the queen and some frames of bees from your best colony and let that remaining now queenless colony make emergency cells. Once the cells are capped, divide them up in nucs from that colony and any other colony you care to take some frames of bees from, with as many cells as you can divide up. You can also take cells made and remove a queen you don't want out of a colony and replace it with a cell or two. The risk would be a failed queen attempt in any of the splits or colonies you removed queens from. If one split fails to make a queen they can be combined with another split to strengthen it. You'd also want to know the timing of queens emerging, mating and starting to lay, so you stay out of the hive while it's going on. Too much disturbance can cause failure.

    Swarm cell queens are known to most likely be a better made cell than emergency cells, but I have made many queens with emergency cells and they work. It's the simplest way to make your own queens.

    Whatever you do, first read, read, read about these things so you have a fair understanding of what you need to do. The real learning is when you do it, but you have to have an idea what's going on.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    swarms are not all that great, in 40+yrs I've encountered hundreds of worthless swarm queens, I remember Barry Van Druff and his Mom always saying swarm queens are worthless, old and dirty or new and weak. He bred his own queens from strong genetic stock like all of the BEST producers do. The Van Druffs were AZ largest apiaries back in the 70's 80's 90's till varrora took them out of the business.
    Last edited by squarepeg; 01-17-2018 at 08:41 AM. Reason: removed personal attack

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidZ View Post
    swarms are not all that great, in 40+yrs I've encountered hundreds of worthless swarm queens, I remember Barry Van Druff and his Mom always saying swarm queens are worthless, old and dirty or new and weak. He bred his own queens from strong genetic stock like all of the BEST producers do. The Van Druffs were AZ largest apiaries back in the 70's 80's 90's till varrora took them out of the business.
    40+ years on earth maybe, but NOT 40+ years with bees! that's for sure.
    A year and a half ago you couldn't wait to collect or cutout the 'girls' and keep them alive.
    Some of us remember, and know better.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    Today I've done some research into different honeybee species, specifically focusing on Western honey bees. I found this:

    https://beesource.com/wordpress/wp-co...1beetraits.png

    It states that the Apis mellifera ligustica, or Ligurian, Italian honeybee is the most productive honey production wise. Is this thought to be true? All things considering, it seems this subspecies would be best for me. The disadvantages of excessive brood reading seems like it could be largely mitigated with some forethought and maybe sugar feeding. Do you guys have much thought on comparing different subspecies of Apis mellifera in environments with winters that don't reach freezing levels, and that don't have Varroa or much pests/diseases in general?

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    Quote Originally Posted by omnimirage View Post
    Today I've done some research into different honeybee species, specifically focusing on Western honey bees. I found this:

    https://beesource.com/wordpress/wp-co...1beetraits.png

    It states that the Apis mellifera ligustica, or Ligurian, Italian honeybee is the most productive honey production wise. Is this thought to be true? All things considering, it seems this subspecies would be best for me. The disadvantages of excessive brood reading seems like it could be largely mitigated with some forethought and maybe sugar feeding. Do you guys have much thought on comparing different subspecies of Apis mellifera in environments with winters that don't reach freezing levels, and that don't have Varroa or much pests/diseases in general?
    I wouldn't get hung up on the sub speices. Strong honey production has more to do with the management techique and local enviroment that the type of bee you've put in the box. You need to have the maximum colony for the the flows - but you live in Oz, the land of the endless flow

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    In agreement with Virgil; I raise pedigree mutts, try to apply the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle and keep things economical where possible. I do import a couple of queens with hygienic traits every year for the larger mite issues but beyond that the queens and bees are raised out of the existing yards. Graft from the hives I like and the rest are considered potential donor stock. Swarm queens are give a chance to prove themselves or those hives move into the donor pool for requeening or parting out too.

    Bottom line, I'm a hobbyist, if I'm happy with the production and temperament it's all good; if not, I work at changing it.
    “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    These are bees from one of my hives. They are predominately dark, but I've seen photos of bees that are dark coloured, and also allegedly Apis mellifera ligustica. Are these Apis mellifera mellifera?

    https://imgur.com/a/UsWHa

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    Quote Originally Posted by vtbeeguy View Post
    There's a saying goes something like this, "a queen from the best stock raised in average conditions will be an average queen. But a queen from average stock raised in the best conditions (lots food and nurse bees) will be one of the greats." That's not word for word but you get the idea.
    The question was, when raising good queens, is it nature or nurture. Obviously it's both. A queen selected from average stock, raised under ideal conditions, will be better than a queen selected from the best stock in the world, raised under poor conditions.

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    Quote Originally Posted by omnimirage View Post
    How do you guys manage the genetics of your bees?
    That's a subject i've been thinking on a lot lately. Being new it's impossible to go from experience. But also seems like the perfect time to get a great start with the best genetics possible.
    Obviously a successfully overwintered colony that takes off well in the spring would be a good candidate. Mite/disease status also. But after that, without having enough time with them what else can one do?
    For example, right now it looks like there's a very good chance all of my hives will make it through winter. There are differences in cluster size, and resulting food consumption, so, if they meet the above requirements of taking off good and healthy, i would like to have colonies that are a bit more frugal with their stores. But at this point i'm not sure whether the smaller cluster size i'm seeing with some of them is a good characteristic or not. Hopefully some of this will become more clear as time goes. Being all Italian right now it seems like a good idea to introduce some carni into my line, and preferably some of high quality but not sure other than that in general.
    I've reached out to a couple of the more prominent beeks on here with dialog but i'm sure they get a lot of questions from newbies so don't expect them to be able or want to extend themselves with every new beek that does that.
    It's a great topic though.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Bee genetics

    Obviously a successfully overwintered colony that takes off well in the spring would be a good candidate. Mite/disease status also.
    I think a better test is if they successfully overwinter the second time. (Assuming effective mite treatments both summers.) Most colonies that fail to overwinter the first time do so because of untreated mites or being undersupplied. Neither of these are primarily genetic issues, usually it's sub-par beekeeping management, or just plain bad luck. A colony that emerges strong from its second winter not only has had good care, but also has some inherent strengths that may be genetic.

    Bee genetics is a fascinating subject. But it's far more complicated than the standard "birds and bees" understanding that most of us start out with.

    If you want to try the fancy queens, try them on a few of your hives and see how they do.

    BTW, you do not need - and it would be a waste - to destroy the frames of brood from the culled queen. Just let them hatch and live out their short bee-lives supporting the brood from the new queen.

    Nancy

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