Bee breeding lab a sweet sensation for beekeepers
27/10/02 - AMY WOLD - http://www.theadvocate.com/
A chance to see the facility, hear more about mite-resistant honeybees and connect with other beekeepers brought people from all over the state to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Honey-Bee Breeding Laboratory in Baton Rouge on Saturday.
Most of the audience was made up of hobby beekeepers, many of whom depend on the laboratory for help troubleshooting their own operations.
Del Sparks of Jackson, Miss., and Harold Watson of Terry, Miss., drove three hours in the rain to attend the annual field day activities.
"I've been waiting to come down to the bee lab for years, and then I found out about this," Sparks said. Sparks is also president of the Central Mississippi Beekeepers Association and has been a beekeeper since 1978. Watson has been raising bees on and off since 1960.
"It's a hobby I enjoy," Watson said. "It's challenging." The biggest thing they wanted to learn more about is the mite-resistant Russian bees that the laboratory has been working with since the early 1990s.
There are several mites that can weaken or destroy beehives. One of them is the varroa mite that came to the United States in the 1980s. The mites live in the hives, feed off the bees and reproduce in the sealed larva tubes. The bees become sick and if left untreated, the mites can destroy a bee colony.
Another parasite, the tracheal mite, came to the United States from Mexico in 1984. The mite lays eggs in the windpipe of the bees; its young feed on the bees after they hatch.
Before the early 1990s, beekeepers primarily depended on chemical treatments to keep mites under control.
However, through a collaboration with Russian scientists, the honeybee laboratory collected Russian bees that seemed to have a resistance to several mites.
Since 1992, the laboratory has used a facility on an island off the Louisiana coast as a quarantine and research facility in selecting some of the most resistant bees that have been made available to beekeepers.
"Not all of you remember the bad, old days. The bad, old days was going out to your hives in mid summer to find half of your bees dead and the other half in their last days," said Tom Rinderer, research director at the Baton Rouge's laboratory. "Beekeepers were going out of business."
Many of the beekeepers at the field day are already using Russian bees and were interested in knowing any tricks to managing their bee populations.
Even long-time beekeepers like Cecil Dawson of Baton Rouge, who has been raising bees since 1948, are making the switch to Russian bees.
"I started out fooling with bees when I was 6-years-old," Dawson said.
His grandfather used to take him out to work with the bee hives, Dawson said. "My mother made me a veil out of an old curtain," he said. After World War II, Dawson settled down in Baton Rouge and started raising bees in his back yard. Dawson said he attended the laboratory's field day because it gave him a chance to talk with other beekeepers and learn about the Russian bees he raises now.
"And, you might learn something," he said with a smile.
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