A varroa mite has attached itself to an emerging honey bee.
Photos by Plant and Food Research.
Queen honeybees with a spring-cleaning genetic trait are
being used as a tool to control varroa mite rather than using
Plant and Food Research (PFR) scientists Michelle Taylor and
Warren Yorston, of Ruakura, have been involved in the varroa
sensitive hygiene (VSH) honeybee breeding programme since
2003, in association with the National Beekeepers'
Association and with funding from the then Ministry of
Agriculture and Forestry's (now Ministry for Primary
Industries) Sustainable Farming Fund.
Bees with the VSH trait are able to detect reproductive mites
in brood cells and uncap the cells and remove the pest before
Rainbow Honey, of Tapawera, is continuing to produce the VSH
queens under licence as well as carrying on with further
research in its own laboratory.
Mrs Taylor said they initially identified about 100 queen
bees with the naturally occurring trait, from apiaries
throughout the country, and artificially inseminated them
using semen from drones that also had the trait.
''We backcrossed to develop a higher level of hygiene,'' Mrs
''Sometimes the pupae died or they removed them as well and
sometimes they recapped them and the pupae go on to become
adult honey bees.
''We might see a line of four or five cells with little
holes, and you can see the pupae, then the next day it is
A varroa mite latches on to a honey bee pupa.
On some occasions they could have a 100%-effective rate
of non-breeding varroa within the hives, although there were
not many at that level, and 80% was more likely.
''The VSH queen bees are a tool, not a solution to the varroa
''We are trying to limit the chemical use in colonies to
limit the varroa incursion.''
There is no significant difference in honey production as a
Rainbow Honey director/owner Philip Cropp said although the
PFR programme had stopped in 2012 he and Rae Butler had
continued with the research at their site in Tapawera, paying
PFR a small royalty.
Rainbow Honey has 80 hives which have the gene present.
''We have done a lot of research and have found a lot of
other hives have the trait,'' Mr Cropp said.
''We want to develop the 80 hives so they don't have to be
treated [chemically] at all [for varroa].''
They are also working with other beekeepers and sell them
queens, as well as using them themselves.
''It is a long-term project, but beekeeping is going this
The company has received grants from AgMardt towards the