Bee Breeding in the Field: Part 4

The Way Back to Biological Beekeeping, Part 19

Basic Colony Thermodynamics

  1. A cold-blooded animal is one that has a body temperature below 80 degrees F., and that takes on the temperature of the air, water, or other element in which it lives. One bee, or a few bees, do take on the temperature of the air around them and cannot protect themselves against the loss of heat or cold.
  2. A warm-blooded animal is one having a relatively high and constant body temperature relatively independent of the surrounding environment. The bee cluster can keep itself warm against a temperature of 100 degrees F below zero or cool against a temperature of over 135 degrees F by metabolic activity mimicking warm-bloodedness by working together as a whole harmonious unit to provide an optimum and constant body temperature relatively independent of the harsh surrounding conditions of temperature and humidity.
  3. With an internal ambient temperature of approximately 106 degrees F both bees and brood die without some measures of heat regulation.
  4. When the ambient temperature inside the hive drops to 45 degrees F, bees normally cease work, cluster loosely, and maintain the cluster temperature at 57 – 58 degrees F.
  5. The cluster is most nearly dormant at 57 – 58 degrees F which still allows the bees to be able to break cluster and move to a new store of honey when all within the cluster has been consumed.
  6. Honeybee clusters generate 12 – 13 degrees F heat by their normal and natural bodily metabolism or activity incidental to living.
  7. The brood rearing temperature is approximately 93 degrees F to stimulate both the queen to lay eggs and the worker bees to feed and care for larvae.
  8. Once the brood rearing has begun, bees must generate whatever heat it takes to maintain the brood nest temperature at approximately 93 degrees F until the brood emerges.
  9. If the temperature of the outside air rises to 90 degrees F or higher, bees normally carry water into the hive, evaporating it by forced air circulation and thus removing the excess heat from the hive (Evaporation of water cools the hive because the specific heat of water is more than 4 times that of air).
  10. Pure hybridization occurs where hot-weather bees (yellow) and cold-weather bees (black/brown) come together naturally by either latitude or altitude with a mean monthly temperature of 75 degrees F. (Note: Now refer back to Saga #8 picturing in your mind the world as a basic map of honeybee thermal/cell size zones based on composites of hot and cold land area masses. Read and recap here, then proceed on.)
  11. As the inside ambient temperature approaches and/or exceeds both 45 degrees F and 106 degrees F small black bees approach the breeding condition of thelytoky (Have not been able to accomplish with either yellow-mix or large dark castes.)
  12. Humidity in the brood chamber should be about 60% relative humidity, while in the supers where the honey is being ripened it should be 10% relative humidity.

(Note: Now refer back to Saga #8 again picturing in your mind the world as a basic map of honeybee thermal/cell size zones based on composites of hot and cold land area masses. Read and recap here, then proceed on.):

  1. Dark (brown/black) cold-weather bees exist naturally below 30 degrees latitude where higher altitudes permit.
  2. (Yellow) hot-weather bees exist naturally above 30 degrees latitude where warm thermal areas permit.
  3. Small caste races/strains of hot-weather (yellow) bees exist at the Equator and large caste races/strains of cold-weather (brown/black) bees exist as they approach the poles.
  4. As all races/strains of bees advance towards temperature transition-zones at near 30 degrees latitude, hot-weather (yellow) bees hybridize more (larger), while cold-weather (brown/black) bees hybridize less (stay more towards pure races/strains and smaller).
  5. Nature breeds constantly and constant when all optimum basic evolutionary needs are met i.e. water, food, shelter, and temperature.
  6. Mongrel hybridization (man made) is not an evolutionary progression for it separates when artificial stimuli are removed i.e. inappropriate artificial bigger comb size, surrogate geographic areas, and forced climatic breeding.
  7. Nature breeds evolutionary change that is progressive, retrogressive, or cloned, when race/strain survivability is at stake.
  8. Each race/strain of honeybees has its own separate breeding cycle in Nature providing, an evolution separate from all others, enabling it to exist.
  9. Large caste bees on a natural system equate with: 1) fewer bees per brood comb, 2) slower developmental time, and 3) slower mating flight speed.
  10. Small caste bees on a natural system equate with: 1) more bees per brood comb, 2) faster developmental time, and 3) faster mating flight speed.
  11. Drones take mating flights only on days when bees are able to break cluster and fly outside.

In queen rearing, not the outside air temperature itself is the focal point which beekeepers must consider, but the temperature of the skin surface of the artificially boxed hive where exposed to the sun or the chill-factor of cold winds, which may reach 135 degrees F or 100 degrees F below zero, or even more depending upon latitude and altitude, and time of the year. This heat or cold passes through the wall/entrance of the hive to its interior, thus increasing or decreasing it to far above or below the outside temperature. Beekeepers seriously breeding bees can help colonies thermoregulate by maintaining tight and painted equipment, and leaving full frames of honey surrounding the brood nests to act as insulation against extremes of cold and heat.

By natural metabolic cluster reactions, honeybees thermodynamically overcome these effects of unfavorable weather conditions within the hive during cold winters and hot summers. However, to bees, the temperature of the skin surface of the artificial box is a trigger mechanism to which they must react, to average the maximum and minimum temperatures of each day. Day in and day out, bees must manipulate natural weather conditions to approach and provide optimum mean temperature conditions for brood rearing and colony survival.

An ambient temperature lower than about 80 degrees F inside the colony results in one of two things. Either the brood rearing within the colony decreases and cuts back or, if seasonal conditions cause the bees to react favorably (fresh pollen and/or nectar coming in), the bees will increase their metabolic activity and produce the necessary heat to offset any short-term decrease in temperature, adding a minimum of 12 – 13 degrees F of their own body heat to raise brood, if there is a supply of pollen and reserve honey stored. As soon as the brood rearing temperature of 93 degrees F is reached, the queen begins to lay eggs and the brood is reared and cared for by the colony.

In spring, when most beekeepers think of rearing queens, they think of progressive breeding techniques, waiting until colonies produce sufficient drones and nurse bees before beginning their queen rearing. MANY WRONGLY BELIEVE THAT HYBRIDIZATION IS PROGRESSIVE BREEDING. IT IS NOT! In today’s world, HYBRIDIZATION IS FOR THE MOST PART MONGREL BREEDING THAT PRODUCES ONLY A SHORT BURST OF HYBRID VIGOR AND THEN QUICKLY FALLS APART WITH EACH SUCCEEDING GENERATION.

For most beekeepers, there should be no breeding from hybrids since it is beyond most beekeepers to control it (We will talk about this control and the field mechanics involved before we end the bee breeding portion of this saga.). The final result is nearly always total mongrelization of local area bee stocks and an uncontrolled mixture of overly aggressive honeybees which makes beekeeping more and more impossible in today’s urbanizing world. (Note: Could this be an underlying causative effect giving rise to a myth of “Africanized Killer Bees” as being uncontrollable, when the real cause is probably mongrelization with beekeepers mixing uncontrolled variances of races/strains of honeybees together, as each one uses the type of honeybees he/she prefers?)

In a long-term stock improvement program, artificial insemination and various closed-population breeding methods should be avoided, as they lead to severe inbreeding, resulting in poor brood patterns, poor product averages, weak winter cluster carry-over, and colony collapse over a period of 20 – 30 years. This is not to say however, that artificial insemination methods for honeybee queens does not have its place in bee breeding, but the technique is definitely over used in today’s world. In skilled hands, the technique of artificial insemination can save many years work in development of properly field-managed stock lines of several hundred colonies, when used in conjunction with a modified open-mating system.

Nature breeds evolutionary changes that are progressive, retrogressive, or cloned, when race/strain survivability is at stake. To accomplish either of the three, beekeepers must remember that all breeding begins with the selection of notable breeding stock of above average overall colony performance. Beekeepers should look for and select honeybee breeder colonies based on a whole-bee theory of field characteristics. To do anything else will, in the long-term, doom the breeding program to problems and necessitate retrogression before being able to proceed further. (Note: We will talk about a whole-bee theory of field characteristic selection and the field mechanics involved before we end the bee breeding portion of this saga.)

Retrogression in a bee hive is not a simple process. We have talked about cell size retrogression and what it involves in physically sizing honeybees back down to natural feral sizing for control of all acarapis mites and their accompanying secondary diseases. This necessary process sets the stage for bee breeding as survivability and variability are achieved. But, just what is progressive breeding, retrogressive breeding (not to be confused with retrogression relative to size), and cloning (thelytoky) as pertains to breeding honeybees?

PROGRESSIVE BREEDING: Is the production of uniform progeny within the framework of a fully naturalized breeding program which will true breed and the results of which can only be obtained from uniformly bred colonies. Permanent results can only be achieved by the use of naturally occurring races/strains of honeybees. Since a bee by any other name is still a bee, then beekeepers must use individual or combinations of large or small caste races/strains of hot (yellow) or cold-weather (brown/black) bees to accomplish this.

Artificial hybrids may then be created by mimicking natural hybridization, when two of these races/strains are assimilated. Nature does not produce complex mongrels. Nature transitions in and out from one race/strain to another, with a brief transition-zone between, that is a mixture of each, while always maintaining compatibility to localized geography and climatic thermodynamics.

RETROGRESSIVE BREEDING: Is the reversal of either natural or artificial hybridized combinations of large or small caste races/strains of hot or cold-weather bees, resulting in the production of uniform progeny within the framework of a fully naturalized breeding program, which will then result in each separation achieved, breeding true to their own hot or cold-weather characteristics and large or small caste delineations.

Results can only be achieved by the use of stress-breeding at either the beginning or the end of the selected race/strain breeding cycles where no overlap occurs, one projected breeder-cycle to the other(s). Artificial races/strains can then be created by mimicking natural races/strains where complex mongrelization has taken place, to gain uniformity of characteristics then necessary for the advancement of desirable traits i.e. gentleness and production.

CLONING (THELYTOKY): Is the holding constant of race/strain genetics from one generation to the next naturally or by artificially increasing the propensity of worker bees to lay viable brood, to raise queens as an alternate survival system to supplement normal queen mating in case the virgin queen is lost during the mating flight.

Results can only be achieved by using severe stress-breeding, by using the temperature outside, the beginning or the end of selected race/strain breeding cycles where no overlap occurs, one projected breeder cycle to the other(s).

It is a short-duration phenomenon initiated by extreme stress to allow perpetuation of species, until the first available normal mating can be accomplished, to allow, the colony to permanently requeen itself in the normal manner of mating. (Note: Simply put, thelytoky is a natural state in Nature found in low incidence in Italian bees and in higher incidence in natural sized small black/brown honeybees that allows for workerbees to be self-fertile for short periods of time so when hives go queenless during hot dearth summers or extremely cold winters, they can requeen themselves with a temporary queen to carry on until season is such that the colony can requeen themselves naturally again.)

Signed: Dee A. Lusby, Amado, Arizona, USA

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