Outreach Paper Results
One reason that we have set up LASI Queen Bees is that we knew that hygienic behaviour helps control honey bee brood diseases. We know this both from our own research and practical experience, and from the research and experience of other scientists.
But this is not the only reason. We also knew that UK beekeepers are interested in hygienic behaviour and are queen to obtain hygienic queens. We know this because we carried out a survey, using a questionnaire.
We obtained information from 113 UK beekeepers and 23 commercial beekeepers from Sweden. Most were visiting LASI or attending a talk by someone from LASI at their local beekeeping association. Slightly over half were men, 57%, and collectively they represented 1467 years of beekeeping experience and managed 3239 hives. Most were in the 50-79 years age group (UK 73%, Sweden 96%) rather than the 20-49 age group. Few, 4%, of the UK beekeepers had more than 25 hives versus 68% of the Swedish beekeepers.
It was interesting to see how conscientious these beekeepers were in learning more about bees and beekeeping. We asked about 5 methods, and found that 90% had read books, 68% had attended a multi-day training course, 35% a single-day course, 46% had taken beekeeping exams, and 57% had received mentoring. Clearly, many beekeepers can easily be reached with information.
When we asked the beekeepers what was the most important challenge facing honey bees in Britain, most chose pests and diseases with lack of forage coming in second. When asked what was the most important challenge facing their own beekeeping, pests and diseases came in second after beekeeping issues and training. In other words, most beekeepers felt that their biggest challenge is their own knowledge and ability.
Most UK beekeepers had fewer than 25 hives. Because hygienic behaviour is not common, 25 is probably the minimum number needed to obtain one or two highly hygienic colonies to use as breeding stock by testing your own colonies. If you have just a few hives it is likely that none will be fully hygienic. (That is, will remove 95% or more freeze-killed brood within 48 hours.) Therefore, most UK beekeepers may initially be in a better position to receive hygienic queens than to breed their own. However, commercial beekeepers will generally have enough hives to guarantee that they will have some hygienic colonies.
What about hygienic behaviour? Most, 81%, had heard about hygienic behaviour, thought that it was a useful trait, 79%, and would buy hygienic queens if available, 73%.
Alton, K., Ratnieks, F. L. W. 2016. Hygienic behaviour: what do beekeepers know? Bee Craft 98 (June): 7, 9.
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© F. Ratnieks, July 2016