Native Irish Honey Bee Society – Apis mellifera mellifera

Native Irish Honey Bee Society
Apis mellifera mellifera

Varroa tolerance breeding prog.


To enable the Native Irish Apis mellifera mellifera to re-colonise back into the wild. This will be done by improving the health and survivability of Amm in Ireland though selective breeding for Varroa mite resistant traits. Other benefits include better quality bees for beekeepers with minimal, if any, Varroa treatment and improved genetic diversity and mating capabilities.

Varroa Mite
The Varroa mite is currently the most serious problem affecting honey bee health in Ireland. It is an external parasitic mite that attaches to the bee feeding off larvae and adults. Not only does their action of feeding on bees severely damage colonies they are also a vector for other diseases, in particular, viruses. Once infected, colonies not treated will die out in a few years. The mite transferred from the Asian to the European honey bee  and reached Europe in the 1970s and then was accidentally introduced to Ireland in 1998. As a result, there are very few feral bee colonies remaining in Ireland. Bees found in the wild are mostly from recent swarms escaped from beekeeper colonies.

Apis mellifera mellifera (Amm) is the northern dark European honey bee . At one stage this bee covered the bulk of Northern Europe, however, due to movement of other subspecies by beekeepers leading to hybridisation, there are very few areas left with pure Amm. One of the areas where there is a high percentage of pure Amm is Ireland. This is in no small part due to the impressive breeding work by groups such as the Galtee Bee Breeders Group. The very wet weather and short season that the Irish climate brings has quite likely led to a unique local ecotype or Irish variant of Amm.


The bees are returned alive and well to their hive
The bees are returned alive and well to their hive








The sugar shaker is available from Mill Lane Beekeeping
The sugar shaker is available from Mill Lane Beekeeping








Counting mites on the insert tray is unreliable
Counting mites on the insert tray is unreliable










16 Responses

  1. In 2003/2004 ( I am unsure of the exact year) a lecture was given to the Bee Farmers Association (British). I was at the meeting and Lecture which was from memory given by one of the most eminent British entomologist in this area. The Lecture homed in on the ‘sugar rolling jar method’ which at the time was advocated in monitoring levels of Varroa. Free purpose made manufactured plastic jars with screens were offered. I was the only person present at the meeting who took the free jars!
    I was a member of the BFA for a number of years following that meeting and the ‘sugar rolling method’ was to my knowledge, not mentioned again. I would be very interested to find out how successful the use and take up of this method has been in other Countries.

  2. Hi John.
    Sugar rolling seems like a handy way to get an idea of mite levels.
    I think that counting natural mite drop through the open mesh floor is totally inaccurate. Sometimes treatment produces a big drop – even though next to no mites have been observed on the floor in previous months.

  3. I note the comments above were entered about 18 months ago so trust the program is still active and progressing?
    I don’t know if what I have to say will be of interest or help? In my district in England we had varroa in 1993. I used chemical varroa control for a very short time, stopping when I realized the chemicals were having an adverse affect when inseminating queens.
    This year will be the twentieth since stopping. I do not lose bees to varroa as my bees are able to groom mites from each other and to uncap brood cells, discard the pupae and therefore prevent baby mites reaching breeding age. More is documented on my web site so I won’t dwell on that.
    We are now a small group of six working together producing honeybees which need no help from us as far as we can see. We examine for mite damage inflicted by the bees and breed queens from the best. All hives are equipped with excellent varroa mesh floors with strong trays. All hives and trays are identified/
    At the beginning of Feb our Spring assessment commenced to determine which colonies will become those we breed from this season.
    The trays are withdrawn before too much debris accumulates, usually about 3 days, wind and rain permitting. They are racked in our well-lit shed ready for mite picking.
    Collecting is carried out using a 7x photographic lens. Adult mites are easily seen but we also seek to find transparent antennae broken from pupae during their removal and eviction. When antennae are found there are usually tiny baby varroa to be found.
    These are difficult to identify but it becomes easier once the eye becomes trained.
    Collecting is done very gently using a very fine soft artist brush and deposited in a pot, again, very gently so not to inflict damage. The pots we use are 1oz plastic honey pots numbered with the hive/tray number.
    Mites are examined for damage under a 20 – 40x dissecting ‘scope. Records for each hive are updated with each check showing damage as “carapace damaged”, “legs missing”, “baby mites” or “young”. And of course, “un-damaged”
    The latter are mites which have come from an uncapped cell and are almost transparent and watery-white.
    Our statistics show that the percentage of damaged to undamaged is high, mostly above 60% and in Oct ’14 two were over 80%.
    As our bees are being used to supply queens and drones, with some having to be used to supply bees in bulk for making up nukes and mini-mating nukes, most queens have wings clipped as we try to prevent swarming. Therefore I cannot say for definite that if our bees were to go feral they would survive. I should experiment and allow that to happen as I have no doubts they no longer need me or chemicals.

  4. Still very active Ron. Samples are being collected for analysis by PHD students at both Galway and Limerick Universities. There should be an update on how their work is progressing sometime soon. We are lucky in Ireland as many regions still have a good background pure Amm population. If we can select for mite tolerant bees from within this native population we shall be making real progress.

  5. Are there any special offers for a beekeeping course? I no nothing about it but am interested?

    Do you have special offers for unemployed/people on low incomes?



    1. Hi Nicola
      Beekeeping courses are usually run through local beekeeping associations. You could contact your local association for details.
      NIHBS runs a series of one day workshops over the summer to promote queen rearing and bee breeding.

  6. Hi fellow bee-enthusiasts,

    I live in the West of ireland and have been member of our local beekeeper’s assocation for six years. I bought a nuc two years ago from our club (I received it in July), and it developped really well, but the bees were full of Varroa and also had deformed wing virus. Maybe I should have used chemicals, but as I didn’t (and maybe even with treatment they would have) sadly the bees died. I am looking to get two nucs this year, but feel that if I want to continue on the road of non-chemical treatment I would need to get bees that are already not being treated to increase their chances of survival. Like yourselves I do not think that using an ever-increasing cocktail of treatments makes sense in the long run as it weakens the bees and breeds resistant mites.
    If you know of any beekeepers that are selling nucs this year and are also not treating with aggressive means I would appreciate if you could forward their contact details to me.There seem to be a number of beeekeepers in England who are successful at keeping bees this way, but I have not heard of many in Ireland.
    With many thanks,
    Julia McMaster

  7. In early June I used a bait hive and caught a swarm from a feral colony. These bees have been living in the walls of a timber cabin for at least 25 years and have never been treated for varroa or any other disease. I am wondering whether or not to treat, and whether I should bring them into my home apiary or leave them where they are. I am a beginner beekeeper with 2 hives and a nuc. Any advice welcome!

    1. Most feral colonies are recolonised on a regular basis after they die out. I would treat then assess things later. You may have something interesting or you may just have a swarm from a colony which took up residence the previous summer.

  8. I have a wild colony and im concerned about them. If it is veroa they have they seem to be surviving but there are a small amount of workers dying outside the hive and they have kicked outcall the drones very early which means they wont swarm this year. Is there any way i can collect the dead bees for testing?

  9. Hi Helen,

    If you’ve been observing the colony for some time and this is unusual behaviour, it may be the hot weather is having an influence. If there was quick colony build-up in high ambient temperatures they may be reducing drone numbers to regulate the internal temperature. However, I’m only surmising and there could be a number of reasons, including disease that are influencing their behaviour.

    I’m studying wild colonies in NUIG. It would be great if you could go to our website and register this colony for our Wild honey bee study please

  10. I am currently looking for a location in Waterford to start beekeeping. While researching i have come across a veteran Russian beekeeper in the US with 30 yrs experience who has in the last 2 years started to use natural treatment for veromites. Here is a link if his daughter sharing their results and technique.

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