OWA Breeding program successfully survives extreme DWV exposure

Because we have been breeding mite and disease tolerant stock for over 22 years, our threshold for unmedicated mite-tolerant genetics is very strict. Late summer is a time we are especially careful to evaluate every hive, with particular attention to potential breeder colonies.

In the fall of 2017 we began to see the presence of some Deformed Wing Virus (DVW) in the apiary. We scrutinized, culled, and prepared our stock to overwinter in much the way we always do, but by early February it became obvious that something was seriously different.

As the populations rapidly dwindled we pulled and incubated queens from the collapsing colonies; then made an emergency March-madness run to California to purchase queenless packages to act as warm-bodies to save the queens.

Although we lost 70% of our colonies over the winter of 2017-2018, by rescuing all the unmedicated queens that had been heavily exposed to DWV, we chose to see this as a new opportunity in our breeding program.

So in June of 2018 when Randy Oliver’s 2016-2017 Overwinter Loss Survey results, from samples submitted in 2016, confirmed that our losses were caused by high infestations of the most lethal strain of DWV-type ”A”, we were not surprised.

We had been here before:

In 2008 we successfully recovered from 90% colony losses due to devastating exposure to n. ceranae. Subsequent lab reports verify that more than a decade later, our hardy survivor stock continues to remain healthy and productive in spite of carrying large n. ceranae spore loads.

…and we believed our proven stock could do it again.

2018 July samples submitted to the USDA Lab as part of the APHIS National Honey Bee Survey, confirmed the continued presence of DWV, but now without obvious symptoms. The unmedicated survivor colonies continued to build-up and thrive … leading us to seek the answer to an important question: Is it possible that survivors of DWV could develop immunity?

In response to that query Jessica Kevill, [Post Graduate researcher for the University of Salford, Manchester England,] replied the following:

It’s hard for me to tell, as DWV is a tricky one. Colonies die once the viral loads exceed the host threshold, whilst colonies which are just below the threshold survive until loads then become unsustainable and they die. Often there are no visible disease symptoms and bees with high loads may not be visibly different to bees with low loads.

If you are interested in resistance, breed from your survivor stock and don’t move bees from outside of the area into your apiary. You will either breed a resistant trait in the bees OR maintain a viral infection that the bees can cope with, we’ve seen this in the UK.

Since we are in a unique situation that allows us to open-mate our queens in relative isolation, the indisputable fact is that our unmedicated recovery stock is not only managing DWV viral loads, but also appear to have succeeded in passing this adaptive trait to their offspring.

To be fair, there is a difference of opinion in the scientific bee community as to whether or not viral exposures can result in “heritable resistance traits” that can be replicated in offspring. We don’t have all the answers. We will leave that debate to the “experts”.

We can only draw conclusions based on lab data results and what we see in the apiary…. and what we see is “survivability”. Our 2019 overwintered survival rate was the best ever, allowing us to sell a record number of spring nucs!

Is this resistance?…tolerance…? Only time will really tell.

Ordering / Cancellation Policy

Ordering / Cancellation Policy

Change in ordering policy …

Because we have always enjoyed a good-faith relationship with our customers, we regret the need now to require a down payment from our customers to safeguard the welfare of our business.
Historically beekeepers have always understood that ordering queens is a contract between two parties.
But in recent years, we have seen a rise in last-minute cancellations and non-acceptance of delivery from customers who have placed orders with us months in advance.
Last minute cancellations result in damaging stress delays for our queens as we must reshuffle our waiting list  and can also cost us NEW business from customers who choose to seek queens elsewhere when they believe our wait times are too long for them.
Discussions with other producers reveal that because of this trend, most will no longer accept unsecured orders.
 We ask our customers to seriously consider all the factors involved in preordering queens before placing an order with us:
  • Assess your anticipated operating schedule: Our queens will rarely be available before the 1st of July due to our unstable northwest weather constraints.
  • If you plan to re-queen your spring packages, you should assume that you have varroa mite infestation and allow approximately 1 month prior to re-queening to treat for mites. Even the best of queens requires a healthy hive to support her for the 6 weeks she will need to entirely convert your existing genetics to her offspring.
  • Your queens will be shipped to you when available based on the date of your initial request, or time frame agreed upon (weather permitting).
  • You will be notified by phone and/or email of our intent to ship 5-7 days in advance of shipping.
  • Notify us immediately if unable to accept your order when notified of our intent to ship… You will then have the choice of dropping to the bottom of our waiting list, or forfeiture of your pre-payment.
Having said this, we are not unreasonable, understanding that unforeseen things can happen to any of us, and are willing to discuss options on a case by case basis.

I think My Hive is Queenless

No eggs, no larvae does not necessarily mean you are queenless.  Here is a simple method to help you know for sure… Shake the bees off of a frame of uncapped brood (eggs and young larvae) from a queen-right colony, being careful not to transfer the queen from that hive. Mark that frame with a magic marker.  Remove a frame from the center of the brood chamber of the suspect colony and replace it with your marked frame.

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Nosema Tolerance

Today’s microsporidian:  nosema is frequently misunderstood, even by experienced beekeepers. The confusion appears to stem from failure to recognize the difference between the 2 types of nosema, and the fact that they manifest themselves within the hive in entirely different ways.

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Weather Permitting…

Unlike the favorable conditions found in southern latitudes, Pacific Northwest weather has its own set of unique queen-breeding restrictions: Cool, wet, coastal airflow causes unstable maritime conditions that persist well into late spring. The result is both good news and bad news…

The Bad news is: the challenge of producing predictably well-mated queens early in the season prevents us from offering spring queens.
The Good news is: by waiting for the weather to stabilize, and holding our queens until they are on capped brood prior to shipping, you can be confident of the highest possible success when introducing our chemical free, disease and pathogen resistant stock.
Because of its restricted availability, incorporating OWA stock requires a paradigm shift from the standard beekeeping model of acquiring spring packages, to a managerial plan that includes summer splits and fall re-queening.


       Hygienic Behavior: Minimum of 95% removal of freeze-killed brood in 24 hours
This trait will reduce or eliminate Chalkbrood; AFB; and varroa mite levels w/o the use of chemical treatments
Varroa Mite Resistance as:
VSH trait is determined by Alcohol Wash Assay during spring brood build-up and fall peak mite infestation.
Grooming Behavior is determined by Alcohol Wash Assay during the winter broodless period
Nosema Tolerance:  Demonstrate vigor with high exposure: UNTREATED.
Our selection process is verified by in-house microscopic testing and USDA Laboratory reports.
Swarming Behavior:
Not prone to swarm
Heavy pollen collectors
Excellent Honey producers;
Untreated  survivability



We graft from untreated colonies whose queens have been overwintered for a minimum of one season, and have passed our strict standards for these following traits:
Hygienic Behavior: Minimum of 95% removal of freeze-killed brood in 24 hours
This trait will reduce or eliminate Chalkbrood; AFB; and varroa mite levels w/o the use of chemical treatments
Varroa Mite Resistance:
VSH trait is determined by Alcohol Wash Assay during spring brood build-up and fall peak mite infestation.
Grooming Behavior is determined by Alcohol Wash Assay during the winter broodless period
Demonstrate vigor with high exposure: UNTREATED.
Our selection process is verified by in-house microscopic testing and USDA Laboratory reports.
Excellent Honey producers;
Heavy pollen collectors
Swarming Behavior:
Not prone to swarm

VSH Definition

Varroa sensitive hygiene (VSH) is a behavioral trait of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in which bees detect and remove bee pupae that are infested by the parasitic mite Varroa destructor. V. destructor is considered to be the most dangerous pest problem for honey bees worldwide. VSH activity results in significant resistance to the mites.

Bees with the trait were initially bred by the USDA Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory in Baton Rouge, LA from colonies in which mite populations grew only slowly.[1]
The factor causing slow mite population growth was found to be heritable.[2] The rate of mite population growth was found to be correlated with the reproductive rates of mites,[1] resulting in naming the factor “suppressed mite reproduction” (SMR).[3] It was subsequently discovered that the factor is founded on hygienic activity of adult bees,[4][5] so SMR was renamed VSH.[6]
VSH activity results in (1) an abnormally low proportion of mites that produce offspring within the population that remains in capped brood and (2) reduction of the brood infestation rate by greater than 70%. The specifics of how hygienic bees detect mite infested brood currently are unknown.
Bees bred to have high levels of VSH tend to keep mite populations below thresholds recommended for treatment with pesticides.[7] Queens from such VSH breeding sources can be allowed to mate freely with non-VSH drones, and the resulting hybrid colonies from these outcrosses will retain lower and variable but generally still useful resistance to V. destructor while retaining desirable beekeeping traits such as honey production.[8]
VSH outcrossed to commercial Italian bees recently have been shown to perform well in migratory crop pollination.
VSH thus is a trait that can be used by breeders to mix with any type of desirable honey bee and is expanding resistance to V. destructor among diverse bee strains. VSH breeding material has been available through commercial sources since 2001.
  1. Harbo, J., and R. Hoopingarner. 1997. Honey Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) in the United States that express resistance to Varroa jacobsoni (Mesostigmata: Varroidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 90: 893-898.
  2. Harbo, J., and J. Harris. 1999. Heritability in honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) of characteristics associated with resistance to Varroa jacobsoni (Mesostigmata: Varroidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 92: 261-265.
  3. Harbo, J., and J. Harris. 2002. Suppressing Mite Reproduction: SMR an Update. Bee Culture 130: 46-48.
  4. Harbo, J., and J. Harris. 2005. Suppressed mite reproduction explained by the behavior of adult bees. Journal of Apicultural Research 44: 21-23.
  5. Ibrahim, A. G. Reuter and M. Spivak. 2006. Field trials of honey bee colonies bred for mechanisms of resistance against Varroa destructor. Apidologie 38: 67-76.
  6. Harris, J. 2007. 2007. Bees with Varroa Sensitive Hygiene preferentially remove mite infested pupae aged < five days post capping. Journal of Apicultural Research 46: 134-139.
  7. Ward, K., R. Danka and R. Ward. 2008. Comparative performance of two mite-resistant stocks of honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) in Alabama Beekeeping Operations. Journal of Economic Entomology 101: 654-659.
  8. Harbo, J., and J. Harris. 2001. Resistance to Varroa destructor (Mesostigmata: Varroidae) when mite-resistant queen honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) were free-mated with unselected drones. Journal of Economic Entomology 94: 1319-1323.

Russian Bee Linked To N. Ceranae Tolerance


Research Project: Breeding, Genetics, Stock Improvement and Management of Russian Honey Bees for Mite and Small Hive Beetle Control and Pollination
Location: Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Research
Title: Patriline variation of Nosema ceranae levels in Russian and Italian honey bees


Sylvester, H

Submitted to: Cold Spring Harbor Meeting
Publication Type: Abstract
Publication Acceptance Date: April 8, 2011
Publication Date: May 8, 2011
Citation: Bourgeois, A.L., Rinderer, T.E., Sylvester, H.A., Holloway, B.A. 2011. Patriline variation of Nosema ceranae levels in Russian and Italian honey bees. Cold Spring Harbor Meeting. 17.
Technical Abstract: The microsporidian Nosema ceranae has invaded managed honey bee colonies throughout the world. While the presence of N. ceranae is common, infection levels are highly variable, even among bees within a single colony. The underlying mechanisms driving this variation are not well-understood. The high degree of individual variation within a colony suggests some degree of genetic resistance to N. ceranae infections may exist among managed honey bee colonies. One likely source for this variation stems from the polygamous nature of honey bee queens, producing multiple patrilines within each colony. We investigated the relationship between infection levels of N. ceranae and patriline membership by sampling individual bees from colonies from both Russian and Italian stocks. A total of 720 bees were collected from 5 Russian and 5 Italian colonies. Individual bees were tested for N. ceranae infection levels using qPCR, and were genotyped to determine patriline membership. Levels of N. ceranae varied significantly at the stock level (Russian: 3.68 x 106 ± 1.88 x 106 nosema/bee and Italian: 9.14 x 106 ± 4.62 x 106 nosema/bee; P = 0.008) and at the colony level for both Russian (P = 0.002) and Italian (P = 0.003) bees. Patriline-based variance was evident among only the Russian bees (P = 0.024). There was substantial variation in N. ceranae levels among Italian bees, ranging from 0 to 2.12 x 109 nosema/bee, however this variation was not associated with patriline membership (P = 0.742). The variance in N. ceranae infection among Russian honey bee patrilines demonstrates a genetic basis for resistance to N. ceranae infection which conforms to predictions of models that relate patriline variance and abundance to disease resistance in honey bees. This difference between Russian and Italian honey bees may derive from Italian honey bees having only a short history of exposure to N. ceranae while Russian honey bees may have had 150 years of exposure.
Last Modified: 02/05/2012

Pollen Hoarding – Well Fed Honey Bees Fight off Harmful Effects of Parasite

Bee researcher Ramesh Sagili inspects a European honey bee in a carrot seed field near Madras, Ore. Photo by Lynn Ketchum
 CORVALLIS, Ore. –Well-nourished honey bees are better at fighting off a serious microscopic parasite that weakens their immune systems and threatens the health of their colonies, according to a new study from Oregon State University.

The finding, published recently in the Journal of Insect Physiology, suggests that giving honey bees access to a greater quantity and variety of pollen—their only source of protein—could make them more resilient against parasites and other pests, and help to stem worrisome declines in bee populations.

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OWA Russian Honeybee History

History of OWA Russian Honeybees

The Olympic Wilderness Apiary has been evaluating and including USDA Primorsky Russian honey bee genetics into our breeder selection program since they first became available in 2000.   We began by incorporating early releases from Bernard Apiaries, and have progressively included the best available stock from Charlie Harper; Glenn Apiaries; Bob Brachmann; Carl Webb; Steve Coy and Austin Smith.
Russian honeybees are known for their tracheal and varroa mite resistance. Our hardy Russian hybrids also have a history of exposure and adaptation to nosema ceranae. They  maintain conservative winter clusters and require early and aggressive swarm-control management during their characteristic explosive spring-buildup when nectar and pollen become available.
More about the characteristic mechanisms of Russian honeybee resistance can be viewed here>

Danish Report Verifies Nosema Tolerance Possible

J Invertebr Pathol. 2012 Mar;109(3):297-302. Epub 2012 Jan 20.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22285444

 Survival and immune response of drones of a Nosemosis tolerant honey bee strain towards N. ceranae infections.
Institut für Biology/Zoologie, Molekulare Ökologie, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, 06099 Halle, Germany. qiang.huang@zoologie.uni-halle.de
Honey bee colonies (Apis mellifera) have been selected for low level of Nosema in Denmark over decades and Nosema is now rarely found in bee colonies from these breeding lines. We compared the immune response of a selected and an unselected honey bee lineage, taking advantage of the haploid males to study its potential impact on the tolerance toward Nosema ceranae, a novel introduced microsporidian pathogen. After artificial infections of the N. ceranae spores, the lineage selected for Nosema tolerance showed a higher N. ceranae spore load, a lower mortality and an up-regulated immune response. The differences in the response of the innate immune system between the selected and unselected lineage were strongest at day six post infection. In particular genes of the Toll pathway were up-regulated in the selected strain, probably is the main immune pathway involved in N. ceranae infection response. After decades of selective breeding for Nosema tolerance in the Danish strain, it appears these bees are tolerant to N. ceranae infections.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
[PubMed – in process]

Background & Lab Reports: OWA Feral Bees

Sample#1 (FERAL BEES)

This is our strongest breeder colony.  She is a 2009 Queen.  Entirely untreated; has never exhibited symptoms of dwindling; and has had 4 to 5 brood combs removed and added to weaker colonies throughout the 2011 season, yet remains vigorous.

This colony has been tested in the USDA Beltsville Lab 4 times with these results:

  1. March 2010   =  21.55 Nosema spores/bee (million)
  2. May 2010      =  10.45 Nosema spores/bee (million)
  3. June 2010     =    4.40 Nosema spores/bee (million)
  4. Feb  2011     =     1.30 Nosema spores/bee (million)

Sample was also submitted to Dave Wick at BVS, Inc.  Testing indicatd the presence of IAPV, CPV and Sac Brood virus.  (Dave did confirm that IAPV and black queen cell virus are associated with n.ceranae, however he was not able to confirm that CPV is).

Only 5% of our 2011 colonies showed no sign of dwindling after their 4th cool; wet; protracted winter.

Now in the 5th spring since the devastating losses from this pathogen, our untreated bees are thriving in spite of staggering nosema spore loads and associated viruses, and we have had only 10% winter loss in 2011-2012.