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Russian Bees Pass Key Test, Ready For Research / February 11, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Varroa mite

Russian Bees Pass Key Test, Ready For Research

By Jill Lee
February 11, 1998

Russian honey bees that may be able to resist bee-killing mites have passed quarantine inspection at Grand Terre Island in Louisiana near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

This will allow scientists with the Agricultural Research Service to begin outdoor experiments to determine if the Russian bees could become allies of domestic honey bees under attack from varroa and tracheal mites.

If the mild-mannered Russian bees prove mite resistant, scientists could distribute hybrid bees--offspring of Russian queens and American drones--to beekeepers. The beekeepers could use the hybrids to breed new colonies of resistant bees and thus put the mites out of business. Naturally resistant honey bees would be an environmentally friendly alternative to chemical insecticides.

USDA's Animal Health and Plant Inspection Service lifted a 7-month-long quarantine on Feb. 5. APHIS inspectors reviewed ARS' evidence showing the Russian bees carry no foreign pests or diseases and are safe for U.S. citizens and ecosystems.

ARS' exhaustive screening of the bees began shortly after their July 1 arrival at New Orleans International Airport. The scientists immediately transported the bees to the quarantine facility on Grand Terre Island.

In experiments beginning this spring, scientists will test the bees not only for mite resistance but also for honey production and other traits beekeepers value.

American honey bees and their Russian counterparts are the same genus and species (Apis mellifera). But the Russian honey bees evolved in the mite-infested region of Primorski in Russia's Far East. Researchers suspect that the constant mite challenge over time led to nature favoring only the most resistant bees.

Varroa mites invaded the U.S. in 1987. The parasites kill bees and reduce the supply of colonies available for making honey and for pollinating flowers--including $8 to $10 billion of crops. Tracheal mites, which pose similar threats, invade a honey bee's breathing tube.

Scientific contacts: Tom Rinderer and Bob Danka, ARS Honeybee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory, Baton Rouge, La. Phone (504) 767-9280, fax (504) 766-9212, rdanka@asrr.arsusda.gov.

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