We were lucky enough to watch Sue Cobey perform an artificial insemination of a queen at the Texas A&M Honey Bee Lab here in College Station, TX. This was a very fascinating process and was certainly a learning experience.
Sue Cobey is an expert on queen rearing and specifically on the breeding of specific traits of honey bees such as honey production, varroa resistance, hygienic bees, temperament, and pretty much any trait you desire in your apiary. She discusses the importance of artificial insemination in order to control the entire bloodline of the offspring rather than just the female/queen portion. With artificial insemination, you can use the drones from your best hives as well rather than leaving it to chance. Her discussion of open breeding in the Southern United States included the chance that queens may breed with Africanized honey bees that may tend towards more aggressive behaviors. There is much discussion to be had (not here) about whether some of the traits that come with Africanized bees may actually be beneficial in your apiary including honey production and survivability/adaptations to the environment. It’s definitely an interesting discussion and there are a multitude of beliefs and theories that go along with them.
Overall, the purpose of the workshop was to learn how to be more thoughtful and selective in your breeding program within your apiary and to come up with a plan that includes diversity of bee stock, bringing in bees from other areas of the United States that have more gentle tendencies, and different methods for breeding queens. I’ll go into more instructive guides in other blog posts.
There was a good portion of the workshop that included an overview of the research that the bee lab is working on especially in reference to queen fertility, sperm viability, and other factors that may affect honey bee queens in beekeeping. Bee behavior has always been one of my favorite things to observe in my apiary and Liz Walsh is exploring something I will now forever notice – the size of her retinue.
Liz noticed that certain queens tend to have more attendants at their mercy and wonders if it has to do with queen quality – i.e. her fertility/mating flight success. I’m super excited to see where this research goes. A retinue is the halo of bees surrounding the queen – her court if you will. The theory is that a queen with a larger, more attentive retinue will have higher nutrition and be more productive overall. It makes perfect sense that this could contribute to overall hive health and productivity so I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic at a later time.
If you’re interested in attending the Queen Rearing Workshop at Texas A&M University, I would highly recommend that you come prepared with questions and a pre-requisite of queen rearing knowledge so that you can make the most of your time with some brilliant minds.
Because it was pretty cool, I’ve included the video of Sue Cobey performing the artificial insemination of a honey bee queen for your viewing pleasure.