Morphometry Update

The original morphometry pages were written in 2001, I now feel it is time to update and record our findings for the Spring of 2002. We have completed our spring stimulation and have almost finished the general spring management and cleanup. All hives have been stripped, new comb added where necessary, queen and general hive condition and any problems have been noted, to be dealt with at a later date.
We morphed a number of hives the previous fall and found a good spread of genes of all strains, which has given us a variety of queens of different racial characteristics which is really helpful in our search for answers. By analyzing the results of morphing it is possible to establish the degree of crossed genes in each queen, from just a small percentage to as much as a 50-50 split.

For the very first time ever we can look at a hive and know for certain it’s racial make-up, some are pure A.m.l (Italian) others pure A.m.m (Dark bee) and all shades in between, and the results of our observations are quite astounding. We have known for years that bee strain characteristics are different and produce differing results, shown as different hive size, brood size, honey crop, aggressiveness and colouration, but now it’s really obvious when you know the queens make-up when doing an inspection.

It might be beneficial at this point to help simplify matters, to eliminate the terms A.m.m and A.m.l, I would prefer to call them light and dark bees. So in future discussion I will refer to A.m.m. as dark bees, and A.m.l. as light bees.

We always start spring stimulation late March. This allows approx 6 weeks to first flow and ensures plenty of bees to take advantage of the Dandelions and fruit tree blossoms. This stimulation consists of small amounts of syrup fed on a regular basis, it also includes our spring essential oil treatments. This allowed us to watch the hive entrances and the speed at which the syrup was taken down. We have found in the past that a vigorous queen in full lay with lots of brood will cause the bees to take syrup down very quickly, whereas hives with little or no brood are slow to feed.

The first notable difference was the amount of bees at hive entrances on warm days. The light bees had considerably more bees doing orientation flights in front of the hives and considerably more activity around the entrances, the hives were still wrapped and it was impossible to open them at that time, due to the cold temeratures, to examine brood patterns. The obvious differences between the two strains were the amount of flight bees, while the lights were busy the dark bees were much quieter and had less bees at both entrances.

In all cases the light bees had taken down more syrup and faster, we assumed at the time that the light bees had more brood to feed and when unwrapped this proved to be the case. The spring management examination was quite an eye opener. Where the light bees were bulging with bees and lots of brood, the dark bees cluster was considerably smaller and in some cases as many as 5-6 frames of brood difference. An estimate would put the dark bees cluster about 1 month behind the light bees in the development of cluster size. This delay, provided the dark bees catch up is really not such a big problem, but it would be if you have pollination contracts. The dark bees seem to need the first flow to build up, whereas the lighter bees are built up before the flow starts. If I was in the business of buying bees for pollination, then I certainly wouldn’t be prepared to pay for the dark bee hives, as they would be semi-useless until they grew in size.

Temper in bees is always a major consideration, and even here we have found differences. The purer the strain, be it in either direction, light or dark, then the better the temper of the bees. As we note the mongrels amongst our hives, so we note an increase in defensibility and also an increase in the quite detestable habit of ‘following’, whining round the head of the keeper long after the manipulation is finished. The best description I can make is ‘nervous’, mongrel bees take to the air and buzz the operator far more than the purer strains, which stay on the comb and carry on working, with stinging incidents greatly reduced.

Burr and brace comb are always a problem, especially in the Langstroth hive, but even here we note improvements, the purer strains appear to produce cleaner hives, cleaner bottom boards and more organized hives and less burr comb between frame top bars. Whereas the mongrels seem to occupy disorganized hives, brood and stores mixed up, rather than in the normal hive configuration.

Before I get tons of mail defending dark bees I should point out that I have no aversion to using dark bees, all I wish is to find the best bee for my area and management methods. To date I find nothing to encourage me to maintain dark genes in our gene pool and for our area. In fact quite the reverse, I intend to do everything possible to clean up, remove and prevent any further darkening of our bees.

So with that aim in mind, this year we intend more selective breeding. From selected queens, both queen and drone mothers, mating area drone flooding and careful examination of all future stock we hope to clean our bees of stray genes and produce better production queens. I will be adding to this update as the year progresses so might I suggest you come back at a later date to see what we achieve?