The Feral Bee Project

Something unique to our company is our feral bee project.

In The Feral Bee Project, we find honeybee colonies surviving long-term in the wild, then use their genetics in our breeding program to raise packages and queens to sell to local beekeepers.

We believe that this project will help improve honeybee genetics and resistance to disease.

Over time, we (the beekeeping industry) have selected and bred honeybees exclusively for honey production. In this process, we’ve lost some of the bees’ genetic resistance to disease. 

There is a movement in the industry to bring back some of these missing gene expressions that may still exist in isolated populations. We hope that doing so may re-introduce some of the bee’s natural abilities to overcome disease. We are still working through this process and hope you will join us in testing out this theory. Our preliminary results are promising.

How it came about 

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One of the first feral bees we spotted

While horseback riding in Southern Utah several years ago, many miles from agriculture or population, Stan noticed a honeybee on a flower. Bees don’t forage farther from home than they have to, a mile or two. Considering the distance it was from town, the bees’ colony must have been a feral colony. It was too far away to be a recently-escaped swarm and must have been there for a long time. If bee swarms move about half a mile each year, this swarm could have been there for about 100 years.

Since finding the first feral bee, we take yearly trips to Southern Utah in search of feral colonies. We look for bees along the way on local flowers, and now that word of the project is out, we look in locations referred by our customers.

Once we find a feral colony, we take swarm traps and mating nucs to the area with virgin queens ready to mate. We let queens out of their nucs to find feral drone congregation areas and mate with feral drones. As a queen only mates once in her lifetime, with a dozen-ish drones, she will store sperm from the feral bees to lay eggs during her reign.

We carefully remove all drones and drone cells from the mating nuc. Their removal ensures that the queen can only mate with feral drones, and that the feral gene pool will not be polluted.

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We raise daughter queens from these, and repeat the process of mating with feral drone bees over several generations. This way, our queens have a high proportion of feral bee genetics. 

We send these feral queens to California to our package producer, who uses them as breeding stock. Queens will mate with California drones, and then come back to Utah as queens for our packages and nucs.

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Photos Above: Left, A laying breeder queen. Right: A photo sent from our package suppler of the queen in California.

Because some parts of Southern Utah have Africanized bees, we sent a sample of our bees to the Utah Ag department. The results was negative for Africanized genes. They are European.

When you purchase a package or nuc from us, you will be getting one of these feral cross queens. People drive from all around the Western U.S. to try our bees. We offer them for local pickup in April and May, and do NOT ship bees at this time.

We have noticed that feral bees have a generally calm disposition, which makes them good backyard bees. They are also acclimated to our Utah high-desert environment. Generally we’ve noticed that they reduce the size of their brood chamber in fall and winter. This makes them so they are more winter hardy, need less honey and pollen to get through the winter, and it disrupts the varroa mite (bee pest) life cycle.

Our feral bee project has been a lot of fun. Please enjoy these photos and videos of our bee hunting adventures!

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Feral Bee Project Videos

 

2 Comments

  1. Why send them to breed with California drones? Send them to breed with the feral drones? Perhaps someday you’ll find a Russian breed a bee that kills mites ?

    • That would be ideal. We hope to sell queens in nucs that are all feral one day. It would be really tricky for us to raise queens in time for packages (April) while it’s still snowing here in Utah. We send them to California so they can raise the queens in time. Because nucs typically come later, it is a possibility there in the future.

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