Hygienic behaviour is a collective defence against brood diseases. Hygienic workers uncap sealed brood cells containing dead and diseased larvae and remove the contents. But how can beekeepers take advantage of this behaviour?
Beekeepers can purchase hygienic queens or breed them using standard queen rearing methods. Simply rear queen cells from hygienic colonies, whether purchased breeder stock or your own tested colonies. Instrumental insemination is not needed.
If you want to rear hygienic bees from your own hives you need to test 25 or more with the FKB (freeze killed bio) bioassay to have a chance of obtaining a few hygienic colonies to breed from. The FKB bioassay is not hard. It is simply a new method for beekeepers to learn.
Not all the bees in a hive need to be hygienic for the colony to be hygienic. This is helpful as it means that a hygienic queen will only need to mate with a few hygienic drones to head a hygienic colony. Honey bee queens generally mate with 10-20 drones.
Unlike the use of chemicals, hygienic behaviour is not a short term remedy against a single disease. Rather, it offers a long-term solution against a wide range of brood diseases.
Research at LASI has shown that hygienic behaviour significantly reduces varroa population growth. On average, over one year hygienic colonies had only 43% the varroa increase of non-hygienic colonies.
Deformed Wing Virus
Research at LASI has shown that hygienic colonies have greatly reduced levels of virus (on average, approximately 10,000 times less) and have greater survival. When a colony has workers with shrivelled wings, a symptom of a Deformed Wing Virus, this is an indication that it will die soon. Requeening these colonies with hygienic queens greatly extends their lives.
American Foul Brood
Research in the USA has shown that hygienic behaviour is effective against AFB. Professor Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota inoculated 18 hygienic and 18 non-hygienic colonies with AFB spores. Of the hygienic colonies, 7 had AFB symptoms but 5 recovered to give 2 with AFB. Of the non-hygienic colonies results, 18 had AFB symptoms but 1 recovered to give 17 with AFB.
Research in the USA has shown that hygienic behaviour is effective against chalkbrood. Professor Marla Spivak studied 18 hygienic and 18 non-hygienic colonies. Of the hygienic colonies, 6 had chalkbrood. Of the non-hygienic colonies, all 18 had chalk brood.
Does Hygienic Behaviour Harm Colonies?
Hygienic behaviour is not harmful. Research at LASI has shown that hygienic colonies do not remove healthy brood by mistake. Research in the USA by Professor Marla Spivak has shown that hygienic colonies make as much or more honey than non-hygienic colonies.
To order your own hygienic queen bee, please visit our online shop here.