By combining the old world with the new world, UC Davis bee breeder and geneticist Sue Cobey has developed an enhanced line of honeybees to combat the troubles of the bee industry.
Cobey crossed her “New World Carnolians” with “Old World German Carnica” semen in order to create a more genetically diverse line of bees that can better resist disease and pests. By combining both of these breeds, the new bees are highly hygienic and have a very gentle temperament, Cobey said.
Being hygienic is crucial in a beehive in order to detect and prevent parasitic mites from attaching to bees. Left unchecked, these mites can completely wipe out a honeybee colony.
“Hygiene is correlated with the ability to detect and remove infested brood … so if the bees smell that there is a problem, they can reduce the level of infestation,” Cobey said,
Honeybees are very social creatures that have different classes in the beehive, from guards and workers to the queen. If a foreign entity such as a human approaches the hive, the guard bees will attack it, even if it is a few yards away.
“If the bees are gentle, someone could easily be able to walk within feet without being attacked,” said Gene Brandi, a beekeeper and the owner of Gene Brandi Apiaries in Los Banos, California.
This is not the first bee stock that Cobey has bred. In the early 1980s, she genetically produced the “New World Carnolians,” which were developed primarily for honey production.
“The New World Carnolians have good production, good temperament, and good wintering,” Cobey said.
Beehives have a natural cycle to their life. During the fall, as flowers are still producing pollen and nectar, beehives can have up to 80,000 members. However, as winter approaches, flowers stop producing pollen and nectar and the beehive “winters” or reduces the number of bees by slowing reproduction.
“During the summer, a beehive can have around 40,000 bees in it but during the winter, there could be only 20,000,“ Brandi said.
Faster reproduction instigates once almond trees are ready to be pollinated around mid February and their numbers rise back to 40,000.
Contrary to common belief, honeybees are not native in the United States. They were brought over by settlers in the late 1800s from Europe and Asia. Because of this, it is essential to have a diverse genetic gene pool in the United States in order to protect the bee population.
“There have been several studies showing that genetic diversity is a really critical element to resistance to pests and diseases and production in general,” Cobey said. “We have lost an incredible amount of diversity in the U.S. gene pool because of parasitic mites and CCD.“
Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, is a phenomenon in which adult honeybees leave their hives for no apparent reason. Among the possible causes is bee stress, malnutrition and possibly cell phone usage. Without honeybees to pollinate, the entire agriculture system and plants in general would die. Honeybees are so vital that their monetary value in the United States is estimated at about $15 billion annually. Honeybees provide nearly 80 percent of all crop pollination, according to the Nature Conservatory in Indiana’s website.
NICK MARKWITH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.