BIGGER BEES (Eric H Erickson) Honey bees have been selectively bred for centuries. Among the many traits that have been altered or enhanced are productivity, gentleness, color and size. Unfortunately, every artificial selection and breeding program has its inherent risks because enhancement of one trait can, and often does, lead to the loss of others -such as reproductive advantage and natural immunity. Frequently, such a loss goes unnoted for many generations, and usually it is not until calamity befalls the population that the loss is recognized.
Space does not permit discussion of the many potential shortfalls that may emanate from past and current breeding programs. However, it is timely to address one, perhaps misguided, selection effort – breeding larger bees. As previously noted, beekeeper preoccupation with large bees is longstanding; and while size is, in part, a function of relative comb cell size, there is also a large heritable component. Thus, today we have larger queens producing larger workers in larger cells.
The question that must be asked is “do larger bees require a longer developmental period?” If so, what then is the impact on colony vitality, particularly population size, worker bee replacement rates, efficiency of brood food utilization, susceptibility to diseases and mites, as well as efficient heating of the brood nest? The issue of bee size deserves extensive study, particularly in regard to alteration of the impact of stress-inducing environmental hazards on populations of honey bees! For example, are larger bees more or less susceptible to temperature or humidity extremes, and pesticides?
We believe that artificial selection for larger bees is a factor in the current Honey Bee Crisis, and have taken active steps to restore the natural size of our bees..