VSH Queens The New Age in Varroa Management?
When we think of the Varroa Mite, we think it must have been a problem for our bees forever! That’s actually not true!
Varroa mites are a native parasite from Asia and the Asian honey bee, Apis Cerana. It wasn’t until 1987 that the shores of the United States were invaded by this “Varroa Destructor,” that it became the number 1 killer of our (also not native) Apis Mallifera.
In the last 34 years, millions (if not trillions) of dollars have been spent researching this devastating pest that changed beekeeping as we knew it.
Beyond chemical treatments and beekeeping practices, genetics have long been thought of as the answer to the problem. Fast forward to today – great strides have been made in the development of honey bees carrying the genetic tendencies to detect and destroy Varroa reproducing under a wax capped cell (Varroa Sensitive Hygienic – VSH).
Is it the answer? Unfortunately, no…The vast majority of the time, you will still need to use some form of treatment (chemical or natural). The best widely available VSH bees are perhaps 10-20% better at removing mites from themselves and the brood than non VSH varieties. While that does have advantages, it isn’t nearly enough to not control Varroa mites and expect a hive to survive.
It’s best to try a variety of breeds of bees and see what works best for your area and hives. That may or may not end up being VSH bees. Doing regular testing will be your own field study.
There are many other very important facts, like honey production, gentleness, resistance to foulbroods, etc. to consider as well. Armed with this information, you can then make the determination for yourself!
You may ask, “If I don’t treat for Varroa Mites, will my bees eventually become naturally resistant?”
Again…unfortunately, no. Not controlling Varroa will allow the spread of mites to your other hives and often all the hives within a few miles of your own bees. Not controlling Varroa in some manner is irresponsible as a beekeeper, and inhumane to the bees. Just like we wouldn’t avoid treating a pet for an infestation of fleas, mites, or ticks, especially if it could lead to their death, we wouldn’t avoid practicing proper animal husbandry and take care of our bees!
Breeding bees to become consistently resistant to mites has been the lifetime pursuit of many brilliant beekeepers and scientists, but we still aren’t there yet.
Do your due diligence to control and manage Varroa Mites to the best of your ability and hopefully one day this pest will be all but a memory.