Staying within the remit of "Scientific Beekeeping", we are on shaky ground. Consider this, do we need to become involved in bee breeding or should we allow the bees to do as they have for tens of thousands of years, managing their colony by selecting which larva should next head their queendom. Please keep this in mind as you read this page.

There are many great books and websites that can assist with the details so it is unnecessary to duplcate efforts here. This page will underline some basic principles and pitfalls and point readers in the right direction for further details. It will not be about your choices and their validity.

Unless you are using instrumental insemmination or you keep your bees in an isolated apiary you will not be able to control mating. For that reason we have to accept bee improvement as the goal.

There are many traits which we value in our bees but they may not be the same ones that the colony would choose. Many say we should not breed from "swarmy" bees but to swarm is a natrual instinct. It is reproduction of the superorganism and is a measure of health in any animal. There could be two alternatives to avoiding swarmy bees, we could learn to manage our bees properly in an urban environment or we could keep bees only in a rural set up.

Both would lead to the general public not perceiving beekeeping as a threat to their safety and the latter may allow swarms to establish themselves as "wild" colonies. By natrual selection only those that were varroa tolerant would survive. We could after a few years "harvest" these feral bees and use them as future foundation stock, with a level of varroa resistance, from which to breed.

The breeding of new stock can be complex. Increasingly we may need to consider the ability of the bees to be able to tolerate or cope with certain pests and disease. From the beekeeper there is a perceived need to improve the bees we have for all the often quoted reasons such as fecundity, good temperament, hardiness, ability to fly in less than perfect conditions and calmness on the comb. There is no pretence that this is an exclusive list and it has little to do with science more to do with what the market demands.

At a very basic level bee improvement might require that we remove queens that produce agressive workers in an urban environment. By taking little steps towards better bees we are helping with bee genetics. Even that statement is questionable. By removing agressive tendancies are we reducing the bees' ability to cope with wasps or pests like the yellow legged Asian Hornet?

Bee Breeding
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Scientific Beekeeping
Bee Breeding
& Genetics
Putting Honey Bees into Perspective.
Apis mellifera
The first item which will have consequences for any breeding programme looks at assessing the brood for numbers of sex alleles. Diploid drones occur when the sex allele inherited from the drone is identical to the one passed on in the egg from the queen. The queen believed she was laying a worker egg. A fertilised egg with identical sex alleles is not viable. The egg attempts to grow as a drone but is soon recognised by the workers and removed.
Diploid drones are said to produce a pheromone called "cannibalism substance" which workers recognize as a signal that the diploid drone larva should be destroyed, this the workers do by eating the larvae shortly after the egg hatches.

Since a diploid drone can neither mate or contribute anthing else to the colony the workers consume the larva, thus making the best use of the redundant substances in the cell. This results in pepperpot brood where vacant cells are found without any discrete pattern such as is found when wires are at the base of the cells.

The degree of empty cells may be calculated using the 10 x 10 rhombus (100 cells) as in the illustration above. The degree of the problem can be 0%, where the queen mated with no drones carrying either of the alleles she carries to 50% where all drones that she mated with carried one of her two alleles.

The photo above shows a sample of sealed brood with an area of pepperpot appearance contained below the rhombus. The number of empty cells in this case is 18.

A correction factor is applied to allow for the fact that empty cells could be caused for reasons other than duploid drones . For a one year old queen she is allowed 6 empty cells. This then leaves 12 cells due to duploid drones.

The number of sex alleles in the colony is calculated by 100/(18-6 )= 8.33. This needs to be repeated over a few frames and then averaged out. A newly mated queen may not have her laying technique sorted to perfection yet and if laying multiple eggs the workers will clear these cells as well.

Diploid Drone Cells
Behavior Genetics of Nest Cleaning in Honey Bees. IV. Responses of F1 and Backcross Generations to Disease-Killed Brood
Stock Evaluation
Deciding on Priotities
To achieve your goals you have to first establish what they are. What are your priorities, what areas do you most want to see improvement? A pan-european study looked at genotype and the interaction with the environment and became the basis on which the Coloss organisation's book Standard methods for rearing and selection of Apis mellifera queens. This is the "gold standard" for bee breeding. At a simpler level the blue link from the Northumbrianbees website is something all beekeepers can achieve.
The book to the left "Queen Breeding and Genetics" by Eigil Holm is by far the best book on this topic. The translation has weaknesses, for instance a cassette = nucleus, creeping = emergence. It is available from Northern Bee Books from the link below for £18.50 plus P&P
Queen Breeding & Genetics
Eigil Holm
A Europe-wide experiment for assessing the impact of genotype-environment interactions on the vitality of honey bee colonies: methodology, Costa et al, 2012 This link takes you to Carnica bees in Slovenia. A website for breeders of queens. Select different breed and country as you wish.
Without good records you can't hope to make any sort of progress in a breeding programme. It will take several years until you have any success. Areas on which you may wish to evaluate your breeding stock:
Honey yield
Defensive behaviour
Calmness on comb
Reluctance to Swarm
Cleared cells (in hygiene test)
Varroa status
Chalkbrood status
Colony strength
Development in Spring
Frugality in Winter
Survival in Winter
Propolis production

If the beekeeper derives his / her income from selling honey then honey production will be the primary priority but it should not be evaluated alone as the local climate and forage will alter the findings. At any apiary there should be more than one (preferavly several) colonies so that comparitive measurements can be made. Along with that each quality will need to be loaded against each other other.
Standard methods for rearing and selection of Apis mellifera queens. Beebook 1
Bee Breeding Approach Northumbrianbees.
Bee Breeding – Why do I put Characteristics before Ancestry?