To replace deceased colonies or to increase the colony numbers, beekeepers often purchase honey bees, Apis mellifera L., in a package, which is composed of 909–1,364 g (2–3 lb) of worker bees and a mated queen. Packages are typically produced in warm regions of the United States in spring and shipped throughout the United States to replace colonies that perished during winter. Although the package bee industry is effective in replacing colonies lost in winter, packages also can be an effective means of dispersing diseases, parasites, and undesirable stock to beekeepers throughout the United States. To evaluate the quality of packages, we examined 48 packages representing six lines of bees purchased in the spring 2006. We estimated levels of the parasitic mite Varroa destructor Anderson & Trueman and the percentage of drone (male) honey bees received in packages. We surveyed for presence of the tracheal honey bee mite, Acarapis woodi (Rennie), and a microsporidian parasite, Nosema spp., in the shipped bees. We found significant differences in both the mean Varroa mite per bee ratios (0.004–0.054) and the average percentage of drones (0.04–5.1%) in packages from different producers. We found significant differences in the number of Nosema-infected packages (0.0–75.0%) among the six lines. No packages contained detectable levels of A. woodi. Considering the observed variability among honey bee packages, beekeepers should be aware of the potential for pest and disease infestations and high drone levels in packages.
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Vol. 101 • No. 3