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What exactly constitutes a true feral colony? If you have a hive of italians or russians and they escape and live in a tree for 30 years are they considered feral? On another site, a guy was talking about wanting to capture some ferals from some remote forest areas with the idea that they will have evolved with the mites and possess some tolerance. However, my only experience with capturing a hive from an extremely remote area in the Texas Panhandle was that as soon as I brought them to town they begin having mite problems and didn't last the winter. The colonies/swarms I capture in Amarillo may have been living in old elm trees in town for years and some of them seem to not be bothered as much by the mites as some of my "store bought" colonies??
 

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Feral-untamed, wild, not held captive. Once a colony of bees leaves the hands of human captivity they are considered feral. As to the mites, maybe it has more to do with natural cells they construct than them being resistant to the mites. You said they survived in the wild until you captured them. Were they placed on manufactured foundation?
 

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Beeslave hit it on the head. Once a colony is not being kept by a human they are feral.

There was a professor from Cornel University who spoke at the Fall Meeting of the Virginia State Beekeepers on the subject. He is working with bees in a forrest up in NY State. The mite resistance and mites in general have more to it than I had thought. He gave out way too much information to post, given my typing skill (or lack of typing skills). Basicly the mites are a parasite and if the colony dies so do the mites in that colony. I looked at the Virginia State website for the information but its down right now. I'll look back later.
 

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If the feral bees are in such a remote area that doesn't mean that they would be mite resistant. If they are in that a remote area then the bees may have not encountered mites.

Don't know.......just a thought.
 

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That was one of the test done by this guy. As far as he could tell there were not any other beekeepers within many miles of this forrest but the feral bees did have mites.
 

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If you have a hive of italians or russians and they escape and live in a tree for 30 years are they considered feral?
There is reason to believe that 90 to 100% of these colonies were wiped out by tracheal and varroa mites as these mites expanded their range.

I have bees in a tree in my front yard, just about every year. But not every year. Sometimes they die before spring. Then the tree gets robbed out. Sometimes it gets reoccupied that same year and sometimes not until the next year.

I believe that this is the common case w/ feral colonies of bees. A swarm moves into a cavity. It lives until next year. Casts a swarm of it's own. Dies the next winter perhaps. Or lives another winter or two. Swarming every spring. Then dies one winter and gets reoccupied or not, depending on whether there are other colonies in the area or not.

So, though it may appear as if a feral colony of bees has been in place for 30 years and may be resistant to diseases and pests, it's probably not the same colony. And therefore, IMO, no better than bees bred for certain characteristics such as mite resistance/tolerance and disease resistance.
 

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There is reason to believe that 90 to 100% of these colonies were wiped out by tracheal and varroa mites as these mites expanded their range.

I have bees in a tree in my front yard, just about every year. But not every year. Sometimes they die before spring. Then the tree gets robbed out. Sometimes it gets reoccupied that same year and sometimes not until the next year.

I believe that this is the common case w/ feral colonies of bees. A swarm moves into a cavity. It lives until next year. Casts a swarm of it's own. Dies the next winter perhaps. Or lives another winter or two. Swarming every spring. Then dies one winter and gets reoccupied or not, depending on whether there are other colonies in the area or not.

So, though it may appear as if a feral colony of bees has been in place for 30 years and may be resistant to diseases and pests, it's probably not the same colony. And therefore, IMO, no better than bees bred for certain characteristics such as mite resistance/tolerance and disease resistance.
I have to disagree somewhat here. This may be a pretty common scenario for you folks out of the SHB prime habitat. Here, if a hive gets weak or dies out, within a week or so there is not much left after the SHB and fire ants get done. I can agree when I find a feral colony with obviously new comb. But when I find a feral colony in my area that has comb that is obviously 5+ years old, then it is a pretty safe bet that they have been there continuously for 5+ years.
 

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One thing to consider is that a domestic swarm can survive very easily through one winter and throw a swarm or two out in the spring. Even if the original colony dies the new swarms may survive to the next year to send out swarms to reoccupy the original swarm’s cavity.
This I'm sure is one of the bee’s tools to develop a balanced relationship with the mites.
If you're seeing comb that looks like it's been used for a number of years I would assume the bees have been there a while and may be a good addition to your apiary.
I also think it's not necessarily so that those bees will always do well once you take them from a place that they maybe barely making it year to year and putting them into a different environment.
 

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You could be right. What does 5+ year old comb look like?
I would say when 90% of the comb in the hive is black as coffee, its probably 5 years old, possibly more. Its not exact, but it will be pretty old non-the-less. I have done a lot of removals where you can see what appears to be several generations of SHB "left-overs" in the bottom of the cavity and the current colony has obvious new comb. Its the lack of these left-overs and very old looking comb that leads me to believe that a colony has been there pretty much continuously for a good while. The point is that in my climate, unguarded brood comb won't last a month, let alone a season or two. Bees still regularly return to previous nesting sites just as you suggest, but generally if the cavity has been vacated for more than a week or so, they pretty much have to start from scratch. I believe that this scenario can give one a pretty good indication as to how well a feral colony has been surviving on their own.
 
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