The Feral Bee Project

In The Feral Bee Project, we find honeybee colonies surviving long-term in the wild, without human intervention, then use their genetics in our breeding program.

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 roadside 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 a mating nuc (a small colony with 1-2 frames of worker bees and a virgin queen) to the area. The virgin queen will fly out to a drone congregation area and mate with feral drone bees. As a queen only mates once in her lifetime, with a dozen-ish drones, she will store their sperm in her body to lay fertilized 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 eggs, and repeat the process of mating them with feral drone bees over several generations. This way, our queens have a high proportion of feral bee genetics, plus some of our own survivor stock. 

We use these feral queens as breeding stock. Daughters from these queens will mate with local drones, and then we sell them in our  nucleus colonies. We love how they are adapted to our local Utah climate (high mountain desert), and find success with them and see higher winter survival rates each year. 

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

When you purchase a package or nuc from us, you will be getting one of these feral queens. People drive from all around the Western U.S. to try our bees. We offer them for local pickup in 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!


UPDATE: We updated this page because we started raising our own queens in Utah in 2020 rather than sending them to California. It makes the pickup date a few weeks later, but we think it's worth it to have all the bees we sell come from our local stock.


Feral Bee Project Videos

3 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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