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From:
Peter Borst <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Informed Discussion of Beekeeping Issues and Bee Biology <[log in to unmask]>
Date:
Sun, 29 Oct 2006 19:49:39 -0500
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Mr. Waggle has raised the question of whether there is proof that honey bees
were effectively "upsized" by the use of larger than normal foundation. The
 article he mentioned certainly doesn't prove it, nor does it attempt to.
The authors were trying to see if their bees (Apis mellifera mellifera)
could be downsized in hope of reducing the varroa infestation. Ironically,
they were unable to get a reduction in size that corresponded to the
reduction in cell size. Despite the cells being some 7% smaller, the bees
were only 1% smaller. 

I don't believe there has ever been proof of bees being permanently
"upsized" by foundation. Root discussed this at some length in his 1890
book. He said: "Several times it has been suggested that we enlarge the race
of honey bees, by giving them larger cells. I have little hope of any
permanent enlargement in size. Worker bees reared in drone cells are, if I
am correct, sometimes extra large in size, but as to whether we can make
them permanently larger by such a course, I am inclined to doubt."

But beyond this, there isn't really any way to determine with any degree of
accuracy what the sizes of bees were before the widespread use of larger
foundation. And, it is simply not plausible that the practice would have any
lasting effect, since size is not an acquired characteristic. Larger bees or
smaller bees could be bred, or evolve over long periods of time, but the
genetic component wouldn't be altered simply by raising them in bigger
cells. The range of size of the races of bees today can easily be verified
using bees living in skeps, box hives, etc. which are still widespread.

Continuing, there is the separate issue of whether smaller bees are less
susceptible to varroa. This has not be been proved, either. Apis cerana has
varroa but can coexist with it. We don't know that this is because of their
smaller size, or it is based on different behavior. The naturally smaller
bees of Africa appear to develop very high loads of varroa mites. The
various theories for why smaller bees would have fewer varroa have never
been verified.

In order to determine whether small bees are less susceptible to varroa, a
controlled experiment would have to be done. All other variables would have
to be eliminated -- something many proponents of smaller bees fail to
acknowledge. You would have to be able to rule out environmental factors,
climate, inbreeding of varroa, etc. In other words, the experiment would
have to be set up using ordinary bees raised on small cell foundation, in a
temperate climate, infested with run of the mill varroa. These would be
compared side by side with bees managed the normal way.

The Arizona experiment has been conducted in a semi-tropical climate, with
bees that are probably African hybrids. They are isolated to such a degree
that the varroa may be inbred which could significantly reduce their vigor.
In the US, in most areas where bees are kept, there is a continual transit
of bees from south to north, and back south to a lesser degree, which could
allow varroa to hybridize and increase vigor. Also, the application of
chemicals tends to make the surviving mites more vigorous. So, if you don't
keep bees in isolation, you are bound to pick up new strains of chem.
resistant mites, small hive beetles, etc.

So we have two separate questions. What is the natural size of the various
races of bees? To me this was adequately settled by researchers measuring
bees on natural comb. In much of the world bees are kept without foundation,
so they have ample opportunity to "revert" to whatever size is natural for
that race. It seems to clear to me that European bees are generally bigger
than African types, and that the larger foundation is not out of the normal
range for them. It is obvious that the smaller African hybrids would be
quite comfortable on smaller cells; that is what is sold in Africa. 

The other question is whether smaller bees get less varroa, and if these
smaller bees are as productive as normal bees. We have nothing but anecdotes
here. Personally, I have heard that the Arizona bees don't make much honey.
That would be a real problem for anyone hoping to profit from the keeping of
bees. But they might make good pets.

By the way, these are my own opinions which have arisen from the extensive
reading and observation I have done. Any and all opinions that I hold are
subject to revision upon the receipt of better information. If good clear
evidence is provided to support these theories, I would want to see it. 

pb

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