I first heard about feral honey bees making a comeback in France back in 1997, when on sabbatical in Aix-en-Provence. Evidence included anecdotal reports of a larger-than-normal number of swarms. Many said it meant nothing; the swarms were from mite-treated colonies. Nevertheless, it struck a chord; more recent information suggests that Canadians are also using French stock in an effort to incorporate this characteristic. There seems little reason to believe that feral honey bees might not rebound after being challenged by mites for a period of years no matter the geographic setting. The studies by Dr. Tom Seeley and others at Cornell University reveal this in so-called “wild” populations residing in the Arnot Forest.
David Green in South Carolina recently wrote: “I was impressed by the number of locations where I found foraging honey bees where, to my knowledge, there were no domestic bees within range. I did not announce this observation last fall, thinking I’d wait to check on spring survival. Now I think I am definitely seeing a trend in the area. I believe many of the honey bees I’m seeing are feral, and have been feral for more than one season.” He concludes: “I am noticing a high proportion of honey bees seen foraging that are a decided gray color. This interests me, in that I have never kept a gray bee, nor do I know of any other domestic bees in the area that are gray. The gray color is a characteristic of Caucasian bees, is it not? They have never been popular here, and I have no experience with them. Has someone introduced them at some point, and do they have a Varroa resistance mechanism that the Italians and Carniolans don’t have? Which has caused a gradual rise in their proportion in feral populations? I am thinking that the crash in pollinator populations was caused by a coincidence of two factors, pesticide misuse (in the wake of mosquito spraying after hurricanes in the region) and Varroa mites. I believe that we are also seeing some significant (but not complete) recovery. I’m looking for confirmation or refutation of this.”
Other observations indicate that Florida may also have some feral honey bees on the rebound. These include areas on both coasts where a lot of managed colonies do not necessarily exist. Latest information, for example, is that loggers in the Big Bend region of the state are finding more and more wild, untreated nests of honey bees in trees. The Jacksonville area has also been implicated in this phenomenon. Other references suggest it might be happening in California. It’s worth everyone keeping their eyes open to possibilities of Varroa tolerance being developed in North American honey bees as appears to have happened in South and Central American populations.
In the UK, there is an interesting idea concerning Varroa tolerance and subsequent resistance to various viruses in one person’s bees. The grooming appears to be something related to Varroa sensitive hygiene, but it is not specifically mentioned here. The idea that treatment for mites actually harms a colony in this scenario because it takes out all the beneficial viruses, leaving an opening for virulent ones to get a toe hold remains controversial and needs more study.
There is evidence that Africanized honey bees in Mexico might signal Varroa tolerance. This confirms other reports in Brazil and most recently South Africa of the same phenomenon. Research in Spain also has contributed to the concept of Varroa tolerance via direct attempts to develop this trait in European honey bees. More recently the Arista Bee Research Foundation has embarked on a wide effort to unite honey bee breeders across Europe based on Brother Adam’s purported success in honey bee breeding coupled with using Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH).