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The ‘bee’ all and end all: the importance of rapid hygienic behavior testing in bees


Interesting article and video about hygienic bees/queen.
Have you tried this technique in the video @Michael_Bush, @JeffH , @Dawn_SD, @Red_Hot_Chilipepper (anybody else) ?

In the latest best practice video developed by the Honey Bee & Pollination Program, one of Australia’s most
respected apiarists has encouraged honey producers to adopt rapid hygienic behavior testing in an effort to
limit pest and disease incursions.

In the fifth episode in the series, Lindsay Bourke from Australian Honey Products in Launceston, Tasmania, explains
his technique for testing bees for hygienic behavior, and the importance of the practice.
“Everyone should be doing it; guessing is not good enough,” Mr Bourke said.
“A bee with rapid hygienic behavior gets less American foul brood and they will also be set up to be able to detect
Varroa destructor compared to a bee that doesn’t have it,” he said.

“Biosecurity is important to our company also because we know that healthy bees will produce more honey and of a
better quality.
“We all want queens who have less brood diseases, and they’re the ones that have rapid hygienic testing.”
In the video, Mr Bourke demonstrates step-by-step how to apply liquid nitrogen to the brood. This practice
temporarily freezes the brood allowing a beekeeper to then test the percentage of cells the bees uncap.
“If 95 per cent of the brood tested is uncapped 24 hours later, then that indicates a wonderful queen to breed from,”
Mr Bourke said

AgriFutures Australia Program Manager for Research and Innovation, Dr Melanie Bradley, said protecting industry
biosecurity and bolstering healthy queen bee breeding lines is a crucial focus for industry.
“The honey bee and pollination sector is acutely aware that Varroa is very much on our doorstep,” she said.
“Anything that can be done to ensure a healthy and profitable pollination sector must be considered.”

To watch the video go to: https://youtu.be/AhhYLbmk9Mo

For more information, go to: http://www.agrifutures.com.au/rural-industries/honey-bee-pollination/


So far most of the survivor bees have not been found to be very hygienic. No more so than other bees. It does not appear to be an important aspect of surviving Varroa. it IS helpful in preventing AFB and it is something we beekeepers have bred against for 150 years or more by selecting for perfect brood patterns. Kirk Webster said it well:


“We’re trying to ensure the failure of modern beekeeping by focusing too much on single traits; by ignoring the elements of Wildness; and by constantly treating the bees. The biggest mistake of all is to continue viewing mites and other “pests” as enemies that must be destroyed, instead of allies and teachers that are trying to show us a path to a better future. The more virulent a parasite is, the more powerful a tool it can be for improving stocks and practice in the future. All the boring and soul-destroying work of counting mites on sticky boards, killing brood with liquid nitrogen, watching bees groom each other, and measuring brood hormone levels—all done in thousands of replications—will someday be seen as a colossal waste of time when we finally learn to let the Varroa mites do these things for us. My own methods of propagating, selecting and breeding bees, worked out through many years of trial and error, are really just an attempt to establish and utilize Horizontal breeding with honeybees—to create a productive system that preserves and enhances the elements of Wildness. My results are not perfect, but they have enabled me to continue making a living from bees without much stress, and have a positive outlook for the future. I have no doubt that many other beekeepers could easily achieve these same results, and then surpass them.”–Kirk Webster, What’s missing from the current discussion and work related to bees that’s preventing us from making good progress.


I did not think the video was about “survivor bees”, but about the bees being able to uncap and take out bad cells - which therefore indicated good hygiene practices, and a good queen.
Did I get it wrong? Or have I misunderstood what you have written?


I was making 2 points. 1) Hygienic behavior is overrated. I think at normal levels it is a good thing. At high levels it probably is just as bad as breeding bees with no hygienic behavior. 2) Breeding for single traits has never turned out to be a good thing in any species. Generally it creates new problems and does not solve the old ones.


-this is a great topic and I wish we really could know more. Lindsay is a legend in Tasmanian beekeeping really, but as we have no varroa here at present, surely he would be unable to test this aspect locally? Given what @Michael_Bush has said about survivor bees, I am naturally sceptical about that aspect of it. Definitely a topic worth exploring in my opinion.


I have not. It is not very easy to get hold of liquid nitrogen, transport it safely to the apiary and then apply it to the brood without spilling any. I have used liquid nitrogen in a laboratory (for freezing cultured cell lines), but even in the lab, transporting liquid at -196C around is undesirable and dangerous.

I disagree with Lindsay that “everyone” should be testing in this way. I can see the argument that queen breeders should ensure that they are selling hygienic bees, if they advertise them as such, but hobby beekeepers can’t really hope to do such testing in their own hives.

I have one queen whose offspring appear to be very hygienic. The brood frequently has holes in it, or evidence of chewed caps over immature larvae. Despite that, the hive had 7 mites per 100 bees in mid-August last year (very high count), and we saw DWV effects in the hive. She went into the hive in June 2017, so we will see how her offspring build up this spring compared with my other hives. All of the queens in my hives are meant to be VSH, but they do seem to have different levels of brood removal. As an aside, I somewhat agree with Michael, in that the VSH trait has not prevented varroa mite build up or DWV effects in my bees.


You don’t need liquid nitrogen. An entomological needle or a 25g hypodermic will do.


and a strong stomach :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: Good point though. Death is death, however it happens.


There is some disagreement on whether using a pin is measuring the same effect. There are two genetic aspects to hygienic behavior. One is detecting that the brood is dead. The other is uncapping. If you stick it with a pin then the cap is broken and you are really only measuring one aspect, the uncapping, but not really the ability to detect a dead larva under the cap. So the preferred method is the liquid nitrogen. A 3" sewer pipe cut a few inches long is typically used and you just pour a bit of liquid nitrogen in. A dewar for the liquid N is not cheap, but it’s not outrageously expensive either. You could freeze the whole frame in the freezer and put ti back but that kills a lot more brood. You could cut a circle out, put that in the freezer overnight and then put the circle back in the comb if you wanted to save buying the dewar. I have a dewar somewhere… but haven’t used it or seen it in a while…


Of course liquid nitrogen is the preferred method but pin killed assay still has a place and if you are careful and use a very fine needle the piercing is minor, just one hole. I was simply giving an alternative that those who can be bothered to do this can employ