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I am writing from the island of Rodrigues, a tiny spot on the map 560 km northeast of Mauritius. I am hoping to help queen improvement. Now that DNA tests have disclosed the fact that inbreeding can lead to poor brood patterns, it is useful to look into arrangements for ensuring that mating hives are situated where drones are not siblings of the virgins to be mated. It is often assumed that the 'pepper pot' appearance of a slab of brood indicates that the queen has missed a cell here and there while on her endless quest for cells which the nurse bees carefully prepare for her. However, the reason for these gaps in the brood pattern can be due to sibling matings which have reduced the number of genes available. The nurse bees, aware that a particular egg will not develop into a satisfactory worker bee, sense this and destroy the egg, but are of course unable to replace it.
Although only 13 x 3 km, Rodrigues' surface area is considerably increased due to its hilly, almost mountainous nature. From the aspect of beekeeping, not only are the bees remarkably docile and inclined to supersede rather than swarm, but they are free of Varroa! Langstroth frame hives are widely used and the very excellent honey produced has won prizes in international shows.
To maximise the number of matings, while not taking large frames out of honey production, half-sized Langstroth shallow supers (20 to a box) are put five at a time into small boxes with room for a top feeder. Then they are filled with bees, using a funnel, and a virgin queen is run in, or this can be done on arrival at the new site. To avoid losing bees or even being robbed out, the boxes are taken well away to another part of the island where there is a good chance that drones which are not siblings will compete for the matings.
It might be thought that as drones can fly many miles it would be unimportant as to where the mating hives were placed, but after a few km flight a drone is not likely to out fly a local bee in the nuptial challenge.
To import Varroa by getting queens from abroad would be sacrilege, especially as the robust Rodriguan bees have so many very good characteristics.
Ken Stevens, UK
Zooming in on Rodrigues Bees for Development Journal 31: 13
Craft Aid in Rodrigues Bees for Development Journal 58: 6-7
Published in Bees for Development Journal 78, March 2006