Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees Scholars

Since 2005, the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, Inc., has awarded scholarships to allow graduate students in apiculture to attend the annual North American Beekeeping Conference. Attendance at this national gathering provides the recipients an opportunity to meet other researchers and beekeepers and to present their research at the meeting. The intent of the scholarships is to foster professional development for young apicultural scientists. Scholarships are available to all graduate students. Graduate students at universities outside the U.S. are invited to apply.

The annual request for applications is made in August. To ensure that you receive the announcement, email your request to


Congratulations to our 2014 Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees Scholars!

    Maria Kirrane

Fighting Back:  Honey bee defense against the parasitic mite Varroa destructor

Maria J. Kirrane 1,3, Lilia I. De Guzman2, Thomas E. Rinderer2, Amanda M. Frake2, Pádraig M. Whelan1,3

1. School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences, University College Cork, Ireland

2. USDA-ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory Baton Rouge, Louisiana

3. Environmental Research Institute, Lee Road, Cork, Ireland

The parasitic mite Varroa destructor Anderson & Trueman (Mesostigmata: Varroidae) is still regarded as one of the greatest threats facing honey bees, Apis mellifera L., worldwide (Le Conte et al., 2010). Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) and grooming are considered the most promising behaviors in the breeding of bees more tolerant to this parasite (Rinderer et al., 2010).  The aim of my research is to gain a better understanding of these behaviors and thereby, improve their detection, ensuring more effective inclusion in breeding programmes.   I am achieving this by studying one of the few honey bee races that has been found to naturally defend itself against the parasite; the Russian honey bee. This bee originated in far eastern Siberia, where the host shift to the western honey bee first occurred.  It has therefore lived in the longest association with varroa and is believed to have evolved resistance.  My experiments compare the responses of resistant Russian bees and susceptible Italian stocks in order to better understand resistance.

My experiments are based on a number of research questions, namely:

1. Do Russian bees perform Varroa Sensitive Hygiene?

2. How do VSH bees suppress varroa mite reproduction?

3. Is mitefall affected by hygienic behaviour?

4. Are hygienic bees more likely to groom?

5. Are bees of a certain age more likely to groom?

Answering these questions will lead to a better understanding of both behaviours as well as how they interact with one another.  This, in turn, should enable both researchers and beekeepers/breeders to improve detection of VSH and grooming, making their inclusion in breeding programmes more achievable and effective.  

To date, I have determined that Russian honey bees do display varroa-sensitive hygienic behavior.  I found that VSH breaks the normal synchrony in varroa reproduction resulting in female only offspring and thereby affecting future reproductive output (Kirrane et al., 2011). I also found that young mites are more likely to be groomed when compared with adult phoretic and gravid mites (Kirrane et al., 2012).  This indicates the importance of a sclerotized carapace in the ability of the mite to withstand honey bee defense. 

I plan to submit my thesis in the summer of 2014 and hope to continue researching honey bee health in the future.  I am very grateful to the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees for awarding me a scholarship and enabling me to travel to the American Beekeeping Federation convention in Baton Rouge, La.


Kirrane, M.J., De Guzman L.I., Rinderer, T.E., Frake, A.M., Wagnitz, J., Whelan, P.M., 2011.  Asynchronous development of honey bee host and varroa destructor influences reproductive potential of mites. Journal of Economic Entomology, 104:1146-1152.

Kirrane, M.J., De Guzman L.I., Rinderer, T.E., Frake, A.M., Wagnitz, J., Whelan, P.M., 2012.  Age and reproductive status of adult varroa mites affect grooming success of honey bees.  Experimental and Applied Acarology, 58:423-430. 

Le Conte, Y., M. Ellis, Ritter, W., 2010. Varroa mites and honey bee health: can Varroa explain part of the colony losses? Apidologie, 41: 353-363.

Rinderer, T. E., Harris, J.W., Hunt, G.J., DeGuzman L. I., 2010. Breeding for resistance to Varroa destructor in North America. Apidologie 41: 409-424.








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