TORONTO, Aug 11, 2001 (Reuters)

French and Canadian bees are getting busy on a remote island in Canada to produce what scientists hope will be a new superbee, resistant to deadly varroa mites that have crippled the global honey market.

French queen bees, which have shown signs of resistance to the bug, were flown over to mate with Canadian bees, who have not proved as hardy against the mites.

In hopes of passing on the French genetic secret to survival, Gard Otis, an environmental biology professor at the University of Guelph, brought 29 queen bees from France to a quarantine island in Ontario.

But the French queens didn't get a warm welcome. The scientists put them in bug-infected hives filled with Canadian bees. Now the Europeans have to survive the mites.

Although only about the size of a pinhead, the varroa mite can destroy tens of thousands of bees in only six months by feeding and reproducing off the blood of larvae. Over the past 20 years the parasite has devastated honeybee colonies all over the world.

The mites came to Canada in the early nineties and beekeepers initially slowed the invasion with the use of chemical insecticides.

But now a mutant mite strain from the U.S. is threatening Canada's

C$100-million honey industry. South of the border some bugs have become resistant to the pesticide Apistan, which is used all over Canada.

"Those mites will come over one day and then the chemical treatment we are using right now might not be good any more,'' Otis said.

Otis is optimistic the new superbees will do the job and expects first results by next summer. "Once we have a good indication that genetic differences make them impervious we can start to do crosses with different stocks of Canadian honeybees.''