Honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) colonies bred for hygienic behavior were tested in a large field trial to determine if they were able to resist the parasitic mite Varroa destructor better than unselected colonies of “Starline” stock. Colonies bred for hygienic behavior are able to detect, uncap, and remove experimentally infested brood from the nest, although the extent to which the behavior actually reduces the overall mite-load in untreated, naturally infested colonies needed further verification. The results indicate that hygienic colonies with queens mated naturally to unselected drones had significantly fewer mites on adult bees and within worker brood cells than Starline colonies for up to 1 yr without treatment in a commercial, migratory beekeeping operation. Hygienic colonies actively defended themselves against the mites when mite levels were relatively low. At high mite infestations (>15% of worker brood and of adult bees), the majority of hygienic colonies required treatment to prevent collapse. Overall, the hygienic colonies had similar adult populations and brood areas, produced as much honey, and had less brood disease than the Starline colonies. Thus, honey bees bred for hygienic behavior performed as well if not better than other commercial lines of bees and maintained lower mite loads for up to one year without treatment.
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Vol. 94 • No. 2