Striving for continuous stock improvement, beekeepers evaluate the genetic traits of their queen bees to select their best queens as breeding stock. Observing the behavioral characteristics of the bees in a hive reveals its queen’s genetic traits. However, the queen’s genetic make-up is not the only factor involved in what we observe. Environmental conditions and the beekeeper’s actions also affect the honey bee colony. We can observe the bees’ behavioral traits and select for those traits in offspring as long as they are genetically heritable traits. For example, a honey bee’s hoarding instinct is a heritable trait that determines the bee’s intensity of foraging for nectar to make honey. The color, aroma, and flavor of the honey that the bees produce, however, is not genetically controlled by the bees. A bee hive’s honey production does have a genetic basis related to hoarding instinct. Environmental factors, like hours of sunlight, drought, and dearth of flowering plants greatly affect honey production. The beekeeper’s hive management actions greatly affect honey production. Since it takes a large population of bees to produce a surplus of honey, swarm prevention is important. Equally important for honey production is the beekeeper’s timely placement on the hive of honey supers prior to the nectar flow.
When we measure a colony’s over-winter survival success, we see the results of bees not having a genetic propensity for failing due to Nosema disease or tracheal mites. However, environmental factors like mild weather in the winter lead to excessive consumption of stored food. Likewise, old, dark combs left in the bee hive potentially hold environmental toxins and disease spores that adversely affect colony health by shortening the bees’ lifespans. The success or failure of a bee colony to survive the winter depends largely upon how the beekeeper set up the hive in the fall. Did he or she leave plenty of stored honey and provide sufficient hive ventilation? In today’s photo, an attendant worker passes royal jelly to her queen.--Richard