Scientists put an inter-county call out for ‘wild’ beehives

As part of the NUI Galway project, one feral indigenous Irish Honey Bee hive in the statue of a lion on the estate of Mote Park, Roscommon. Photo Daniel Connell.
Aug 16 2016 Posted: 09:51 IST

Scientists at NUI Galway have put a call out to people from every county in Ireland to keep an eye out for native Irish bees this summer. Beekeepers and bee-enthusiasts in particular are being asked to report any feral or unmanaged hives in their area.

The team of scientists, with help from watchful members of the public, have already found more than twenty feral Irish Honey Bee hives, inlcuding one in the statue of a lion on the estate of Mote Park, Roscommon. Reports have also been received from reliable sources pointing to long-term presence of ‘wild’ hives in seven additional counties.

Of particular interest at this stage are old abandoned houses and castles, outbuildings, residential houses, and woodlands.

The overall aim of the project is to settle the debate as to whether there truly remain any indigenous Irish Honey Bees - Apis Mellifera Mellifera - persisting in the wild. If they do exist, then their gene pool may well prove important in the fight against the varroa mite which is destroying hives all over the world. This mite seriously affects honey bee health to such an extent that most beekeepers have to chemically treat bees multiple times per year.

Professor Grace McCormack, of NUI Galway’s Zoology Department, is leading the project which has been funded by The Eva Crane Trust: “When disease wiped out swathes of native Irish Honey Bee colonies in the past, foreign subspecies of honeybees were knowingly imported as a proposed solution to bolster numbers. Due to generations of interaction with escapees of domesticated colonies, fears are that the Irish Honey Bee populations currently found in the wild are introgressed (mixed) with non-native subspecies and hybrid strains of French, Dutch, Italian and Russian extraction.”

By locating and monitoring active colonies in isolated and unmanaged hives, the scientists hope to test two assumptions held by many. Firstly, that honeybees cannot persist in the wild, so those that are supposedly found are new colonies that have swarmed from nearby beekeepers each year. Secondly, that colonies found in the wild are hybrids and not native bees.

“To test these assumptions, ideally we would like to identify hives that people know have been continually active for periods of more than two-three years”, added Professor McCormack.

When wild hives are found, the morphology, genotype, and health of the bees are recorded. The genotype will be used to identify if bees are native Irish honeybees and if the same genotype persists over multiple years. Of particular interest are pure Apis mellifera mellifera with unique Irish genotypes that remain healthy despite no chemical intervention.

Members of the public who think they know of a ‘wild’ hive or would like to know more about the project can email,  call 091 494490 or visit the Bee Genes Facebook page


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