For any beekeeper, queen breeding could be considered leveling up!-it involves a whole new skill set that is not covered in basic beekeeping practices. There is an entire industry within beekeeping that focuses on producing quality queen bees, we got a sneak peek into the methods for producing Hilo queens this season.
With Hilo queens the focus is on keeping varroa resistant traits while also selecting other qualities that beekeepers want in a commercial operation, such as honey production.
Here Saira Mendez Urbina is using a magnifying glass to find and carefully graft eggs into queen cups. She places a newly hatched worker larvae inside the queen cup, then queenless bees will feed the larvae royal jelly and draw out the rest of the queen cell. (pictured right)
Another preparation for inseminated queen production is to catch drones and harvest the sperm. Drones are too large to pass through a queen excluder, so by placing one in front of the entrance the drones returning from a flight are stalled, and can be caught and taken to the lab. Drones do not sting and are easy to grab by hand! The first photo shows Bob Danka catching drones this way. Another tool, a drone catching cage, also allows you to capture drones. Just like with mating in the wild, this is a one-way trip for these drones.
Once in the lab, the drone's sperm is carefully collected. When the queens emerge from the cells, virgin queens will be carefully inseminated using sperm collected from drones (previously caught in the apiary). The middle photo shows Juliane Steckel in the middle of this process, and the last photo is a screen shot from a short video demonstrating insemination of an earlier batch of Hilo bees.
After insemination, each queen is carefully marked and placed into a cage for banking until they are ready to be introduced into a nucleus colony.
Finally the inseminated queens are installed into nucs-together they will become a new full-size colony of known pedigree as she lays more eggs and their population grows. To learn more, check out the Hilo bees website!