Originally published in The Speedy Bee, Vol. 27, Nos. 10-12, pp. 10-12 (October through December 1998), Vol.28 (1999), No. 1, pp. 12-14 (January).

 Sixth Ibero-Latin American Congress and Twelfth Mexican Beekeeping Seminar Meets in Mérida, Yucatán, México


Malcolm T. Sanford

In this article:

Yucatán Revisted
Mexican Honey Production and Marketing:
Adulteration in México:
World Wide Web Use on the Rise:
World Honey Quality:
Varroa in Latin America:
Breeding for Tolerance for Tracheal and Varroa Mites:
Winter Bees and Instrumentally Inseminated Queens:
Africanized Honey Bees in México:
Commercial Pollination:
Changes in Yucatecan Beekeeping:
Stingless Bees in México:


My first trip to the state of Yucatán, México was financed by U.S. Steel Corporation. A research grant to a fledgling graduate student in Geography helped me travel by automobile from Athens, Georgia across the southern states, through Texas down the length of México to Yucatán in the summer of 1972. From the border, I drove first to Monterey and Saltillo then on to the México City, DF or the distrito federal, where most official visits to this republic usually begin.. After visiting the imposing colonial buildings housing several bureacracies and learning as much as possible about Mexican beekeeping, I headed west to Vera Cruz, shrimping capital of the country at that time. From there I circled the edge of the Bay of Campeche, where most of México’s then thriving oil industry was concentrated, finally arriving on the Yucatán peninsula, a wedge of land sticking north into the Gulf of México.

I made my base in the Capital of Yucatán state, Mérida, the legendary "White City" that is the economic and cultural center of the region. This is the legendary land of the Maya, a very different culture from that of the Aztec and what are thought to be their precursors, the Olmec and Toltec warrior societies. This region has long held a fascination for scientists and lay persons alike.

My goal was to study an activity that had become a major economic force in this mostly rural region since World War II. Interest in keeping European honey bees (Apis mellifera) was at an all-time high. The peninsula was then the world’s largest honey exporting region. My thesis (A Geography of Apiculture in Yucatán, México) was to describe how this had come about and what were the possible future implications. At that time, I found a vibrant activity mostly carried out by hundreds of small campesino beekeepers, whose honey was destined for the established U.S. and European markets.

Great optimism at that time was due to incipient interest in Yucatecan honey by the Japanese market. Prices were at record-levels. A major reason for the success of this activity in the region was because beekeeping was a long-standing Mayan tradition. The culture of several species of so-called stingless bees (Meliponidae and Trigonidae) for both honey and wax was a natural base to build a tradition for keeping the more productive European honey bee. Those were halcyon days. I documented development of one of the world’s largest honey-marketing cooperatives (Lol-Cab) and establishment of an apicultural educational center by the government with a governmental investment of 225 million pesos. My conclusion in 1972 was that apiculture played a big role in the area’s development, providing a side-line income for many who otherwise would have been unemployed.

However, a potential cloud hung over the activity. It was the same that had threatened the region earlier with reference to another agricultural product. Henequen, the one crop of economic significance that grew well in the peninsula’s extremely poor soils, had become a monoculture that depended on an inexhaustible demand for fiber to make rope and related products. This industry abruptly crashed when cheaper materials became available after World War II. Apiculture in Yucatán, too, was based on a single commodity, honey. The history of the sweet’s prices up to the 1970s had already been characterized by large swings, rising and falling with alacrity, based on world supply and demand. Given this reliance, I concluded that, without diversification, only time would tell whether apiculture would continue to prosper in the future as the number one economic activity.

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Yucatán Revisited

Twenty six years later, I found myself again on the way to Yucatán. This time, the journey was a short hour and a half flight from Miami across the Gulf of México. I had been invited by the organizing committees of both the Sixth Ibero-Latin American Apicultural Congress and Twelfth Mexican Beekeeping Seminar to give presentations during their joint week-long meeting in Mérida. The White City surprised. It bustled with over a million people. Where it had been difficult to find accommodations in 1972 for the itinerant tourist, large hotels including Holiday Inn, Hyatt, and Fiesta Americana now dominated the Paseo del Montejo. The famous Mayan ruins that decades earlier had been rustic stopping places with few visitor facilities boasted lazer light shows. Instead of simply sending post cards home, one could also mail video tapes complete with portraits of the history of these exotic places. Mérida even has several Internet cafes, where visitors can check their electronic mail and surf the World Wide Web.

The convention was so large that both the Hotel Fiesta Americana and Holiday Inn were occupied by exhibits. Over 1000 persons attended the event and there was simultaneous translation, something that had not been available during the Fifth Ibero-Latin American Apicultural Congress I attended two years earlier in Mercedes, Uruguay <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/papers/fifth.htm>. The cadre of presentors were also somewhat different, many of the Europeans that came to Uruguay were replaced by North Americans from Canada and the United States.

The opening ceremony for the event had the usual pomp and circumstance these things demand in both Latin America and Europe, where help by the state to put on these events is routine. The politicians were there in full force, including the president of Yucatán state, C. Victor M. Cervera Pacheco, who the audience soon found out was also a beekeeper. In his address, Mr. Cervera described the considerable help his government was providing to the region’s apiculture. Of prime importance was support for the dual Congress and a brand new state-of-the-art honey laboratory, which is sheduled to be opened soon. This facility is projected to do on-site analyis of honey, most of which continues to be destined for the export market. When it is inaugurated, it is hoped that Yucatecan honey may be able to better place itself in the European market by having its own certificate of origin comparable to those already instituted in France and Spain <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/letters/aix2_22.htm>.

Several themes dominated the joint Congress, including honey marketing (commercialization), diseases and pests, honey bee genetics, Africanized honey bees, pollination, nutrition and American bees, the native, stinglessbees of Yucatán. In addition, trips were planned to various venues, including Apícola Maya, the major honey-marketing cooperative and a visit to a local hacienda to see the Mayan ritual asking the gods and bees to smile on the beekeeper during the coming dry season when the main honey flows come. The hundredth year celebration of Tuchel brothers, a German firm purchasing bee products in the Yucatán for European export was also on the agenda for a selected list of invitees. Finally, a highlight was a presentation of the Yucatecan state ballet folklorico at the historic Peon Contreras Theatre in downtown Mérida, followed by a typical Yucatecan meal.

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Mexican Honey Production and Marketing:

The current Mexican honey marketing scene was described by Miguel Angel Munguia, founding member of The Cultural and Ecological Association and president of PAUAL (Pequeños Apicultores Unidos de America Latina). From 1994 to 1996, world honey production totaled about 1100 000 tons, with Asia leading the continents (320,000 tons), followed by Europe (300,000 tons), North America (200,000 tons), Africa (133,000 tons), South America (100,000 tons) and Oceania (29,000 tons). In the late 1970s, México lost its place as leading honey exporter to China, according to Mr. Angel. In 1992, Argentina took over second place, increasing production from 47,000 tons in 1991 to 63,000 tons in 1995. In the same years, México’s production dropped from 50,000 tons to 30,000 tons. Most of México’s honey is exported to Germany, while that from Argentina is destined for the United States, that market precipitously opened by a successful antidumping suit against the Republic of China < http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/papers/PORTLAND.HTM#17>.

México has five apicultural regions, according to Mr. Angel: north (3,650 beekeepers), gulf (3,830 beekeepers), central (6,860 beekeepers), Pacific (12,530 beekeepers), peninsular (13.360 beekeepers). Historically the Yucatán peninsula has traditionally produced 40 percent of Mexican honey, again most destined for the export market. Mexican honey, unfortunately, commands a lower price in Germany than does Argentinian honey in the United States, principally due to differences in promotional efforts, Mr. Angel said. Mexican honey production has also declined for several reasons, including effects of recent hurricanes, and introduction of Varroa mites and the Africanized honey bee (AHB). Nevertheless, the republic has the potential to double its current production to 108 000 tons per year as well as its colony count to about 3.6 million colonies.

This possibility is especially important Mr. Agel said, considering the rapid destruction of Mexico’s natural environment. It is calculated that Mexico’s forests are undergoing an annual decline of 1.76 percent and the state of Campeche’s is far greater with 5.9 percent. At this rate, the latter’s forests will be gone in 17 years. This will greatly affect beekeeping in the region, as most bee forage is wild in nature. Thus, Mr. Angel concluded, beekeepers should be at the forefront in efforts to protect the forests of México, especially considering the signficant growth potential in this agricultural sector.

Dr. Enrique Guzmán, Autonomous University of México, discussed his view of a strategic plan for Mexican apiculture based on scientific study. Honey production has diminished by 30 percent and exportation by 50 percent, principally due to Africanized bees and Varroa mites. According to Dr. Guzmán, these events encouraged scientists to begin studies that have developed:

1. Methods to characterize Africanized bees. These show that identification is possible with a high degree of Africanization, but not for bees with a low degree of that characteristic.

2. Measurements using wing length to identify Africanized bees so beekeepers don’t have to resort to laboratory measurements. Other methods also can be used to determine defensive behavior as a way to monitor Africanization.

3. A test for easily determining mitochondrial DNA.

4. A selection program to improve bees in general that has resulted in 34 percent more honey and 50 percent reduction in defensive behavior.

5. Methods to reduce requeening time.

6. Methods to help beekeepers weather the effects of Varroa, often without use of chemicals, especially in tropical areas.

These results, Dr. Guzmán concluded, show the potential value of scientific study in helping México weather many of its apicultural problems.

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Adulteration in México

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has come to México. Adulteration, therefore, is becoming increasingly apparent in the domestic market. Dr. Antonio Zozaya, a colleague who I also met back in the 1970’s, then editor of one of México’s leading apicultural journals and now on the Veterinary Faculty of the Autonomous University of México, reported on a relatively easy way to detect qualitative differences between pure honey and that adulterated by HFCS. Twenty-seven samples of honey from reliable sources, two controls of 42 and 55 HFCS, seven from products available in supermarkets of maple flavored or glucose-based syrup and sixteen from local road-side and farmers labeled as honey were tested. Fluorescent ultraviolet (black light) was used. Significantly, all reliable samples of honey fluoresced, while none of the local samples or those based on other sweeteners did. These results, Dr. Zozaya said, show that honey adulteration appears to be a significant problem in local markets. Thus, the technique promises a way to differentiate adulterated honey. However, it must be considered preliminary at present and lacks quantative precision.

Nevertheless, the fluorescent technique represents an economically efficient way to screen a large number of honey samples on a preliminary basis, according to Dr. Zozaya. He suggested that more study be done on this technique, which he considers possibly original, since he could find no other references in the literature on the subject.

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Honey Marketing in Latin America: Focus on Argentina

Several plans to improve honey marketing were proposed. Carlos Morales Troncoso, of International Business Consulting Services in México City, provided an in depth export plan based on standard marketing practices. Major parts of this plan include developing a mission statement and establishing objectives. Other integral parts of the plan include diversification for penetration in both domestic and international markets. Felipe F. Arbura, secretary of the Honey Exporters Union of Uruguay, also provided an analysis of changing market conditions, especially in Eastern Europe. Hungary, Romania and others have really cleaned up their act and are becoming major competitors to Latin America, according to Mr. Arbura. China also continues to be a marketing headache with its traditionally low prices. Latin America, Mr. Arbura concluded, must share information and position its honey as a unique world commodity to survive and be competitive in this dynamic marketing environment.

As stated earlier, Argentina has become second in world honey export. The quality and quantity of presentations at the joint congress revealed that beekeeping in that country is rapidly growing and professionalizing. Thus, the country will continue to be reckoned with as a future force in the world honey market. Several large programs were described showing emerging trends as Argentinian beekeepers ready themselves for the new millennium. One of these is the Buenos Aires Honey Program (Miel Bonaerense) described by Héctor Herrera. This ambitious project seeks to unite all beekeepers in Argentina’s largest honey-producing region. It includes establishing apicultural centers around Buenos Aires Province, producing a detailed map of apicultural activity, controlling diseases, and regulating movement. In addition, the master plan includes programs dedicated to providing credit, breeding bees, and communicating with aerial pesticide applicators.

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World Wide Web Use on the Rise:

Another Argentinian progam is called ProApi, described by Lic. Marcel del Hoyo as a country-wide program emphasizing monitoring apicultural activity and developing and distributing beekeeping information. This is a cooperative effort among several universities and governmental agencies (Secretaria de Desarrollo Social and Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria--INTA). It will center on distributing information about colony management, genetic improvement programs, economic analysis and honey marketing, weakenesses underscored by Gilles Ratia of Apiservices <http://www.apiservices.com/ >, who authored a comprehensive report on Argentina back in 1994 <http://www.beekeeping.com/articles/argentine/index.htm>. ProApi may be the first beekeeping development program to extensively use the World Wide Web. It is called ApiNet <http://www.inta.gov.ar/apinet/index22.htm>.

Evidence of Internet use could be seen in many places during the Congress. I presented some of latest advances in information-age technologies to the audience (See the September 1996 Bee)<http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/papers/DIGITAL.HTM>. Besides the ApiNet site above, several commercial exhibits also had web sites.

As a leading honey exporter, Argentina is increasingly concerned about the quality of its honey. This was emphasized by Savador Riolobos Rendon of the Agrofood Laboratory of Extremadura Province. Several aspects need to be remembered by beekeepers to maintain this quality, including, according to Mr. Riolobos, professionalizing the apicultural sector, optimizing honey marketing, defining product quality and sticking to agreed upon criteria, establishing guarantees with customers, and modernizing beekeeping operations. Finally, Mr. Riolobos concluded that an important factor when considering any honey marketing program is to ensure a continuous adequate supply of product is always available.

A presentation by Martin Braunstein, who runs a bee supply house (Malka Cabaña Apícola) in Argentina, concentrated on the reasons beekeepers in Latin America traditionally are getting low prices for their honey on the world stage. A major problem is lack of communication and cooperation. This means that honey buyers continue to have the upper hand in negotiating price, Mr. Braunstein concluded, and only if there is a concerted effort to organize will the world market price for honey have any chance of material improvement for the Latin American beekeeping community.

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World Honey Quality:

Honey quality in the world market was discussed at some length by Dr. Cord Lullman, Institute Fur Honignanalytic. Founded in Bremen, Germany in 1954, this organization has the world’s leading laboratory for analyzing bee products, particularly honey, according to Dr. Lullman. It is the main consultant for European honey buyers and is involved in testing for a large range of substances. These are grouped into three main categories: microscopy (yeasts, bacteria), adulteration (HFCS, glucose) and contaminants. The latter is the largest group and includes herbicides, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, phenols (produced by smokers), bee repellents (butyric anhydride), radioactive materials (cesium) and fumigants (napthylene, paradichlorobenze or PDB). A major activity of the laboratory is to continually update its information about new substances that are continually being developed as they make their way into bee products.

A discussion by Peter Martin, Scientific Coordinator, European Federation of Honey Packers, revealed how complicated things are going to get when the European Union becomes a reality in the new millennium. Of significance are the 1997 animal and animal product regulations (S.I. 1729) and the 1998 import conditions for miscellaneous products of animal origin. These have yet to be formally promulgated, according to Mr. Martin, but are likely to require honey to come from an establishment that has been registered by the competent authority of a third country (one outside the union) that is on a permitted list. For example, the United Kingdom (U.K.) 1997 regulations state that no person shall sell for human consumption any animal product which contains, 1) an unauthorized substance, 2) an authorized substance at a concentration exceeding the relevant maximum residue limit.

Authorized substances and their limits are:
Veterinary Drug Maximum Residue Limit
fluvalinate None considered necessary
amitraz 200 parts per billion (ppb)
cymiazole 1000 parts per billion (ppb)
formic acid None considered necessary
lactic acid None considered necessary
menthol None considered necessary
thymol None considered necessary
mixed oils (Apilife Var®) None considered necessary

Besides these, according to Mr. Martin, flumethrin is under evaluation. Ten ppb for coumaphos (still permitted in Germany and the Netherlands) is allowed. Brompropylate and oxalic acid have not been considered, and although some acids are allowed as noted above, the total acidity limit of 40 milliequivalents per kilogram applies.

All other veterinary drugs are prohibited, which means zero tolerance, according to Mr. Martin. In practice, however, action would not be taken if there was not enough material sufficient for so-called "forensic purposes." And non-medicinal curative substances (e.g. herbal treatments) can be used, as long as residues are not harmful to human health. The fact that fluvalinate, employed world wide for Varroa mite control, requires no residue limit raised a few eyebrows. Finally, according to Mr. Martin, the situation regarding drugs prescribed by a veterinarian remains muddy. It is essential, nevertheless, he concluded to use those that are not persistent and not stable in honey, like streptomycin.

A most important issue in the future will be dialogue between relevant departments of third countries and the Commission (Mme. Claire Gaudot, Administrateur Principal Vétérinaire, Rue de la Loi, 86, B-1040 Bruxelles (mail to Rule da la Loi 200, B-1049), tel +32 2 295 62 16, fax 295 31 44. At the present time, there is no list of third countries, Mr. Martin concludes, and honey can be imported from any country, but a permitted list is expected soon. He also reported that a new study has just been released validating internal standards for SCIRA (stable carbon isotope ratio analysis) for world-wide use (White, et.al. Journal of AOAC International Vol. 81,No. 3, 1998, pp. 610-619 <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis98/apsep98.htm>

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Varroa in Latin America:

There were general discussions about disease and pest situations from Chile to Cuba to Canada. Mites dominated, as they seem to in most recent meetings, with Varroa getting most of the attention. Varroa came to Yucatán in 1994 and beekeepers reported losses of 30 to 70 percent. Dispersion has not been uniform and apparently the mite can be omnipresent in one area and not so in others. In Yucatán, Varroa appears to be generally better tolerated by honey bees, similar to Brazil, than in other areas of the world. Studies in the region show a great variation even within groups of colonies. For example, Dr. Luis Medina and Veterinarian Vicario Mejía reported that the minimum and maximum number of mites from pesticide-treated colonies was found to be 1,528 and 7,616 in "critical" colonies and 598 and 5,766 in "normal" colonies. These were not different statistically. Another study by Dr. Medina and government investigator Diego Cabrera showed that the incidence of Varroa appears to be declining over time, a situation perhaps similar to the evolution of infestation in Brazil.

The authors also determined that in spite of Varroa infestation, average honey production does not appear to materially suffer in Yucatán. Colonies having 4.5 percent of adult bees and 28 percent of capped worker brood infested by Varroa produced an average of 32 kilograms (70 pounds) of honey, the same amount reported before the mite was introduced to the peninsula. The reasons for this are not clear, but may have to do with the fact that a large population of Africanized bees is present. The hope is that in time no treatments will be needed at all.

Another Mexican study by Veterinarian Alejandro Sánchez of INIFAP-SAGAR revealed that climatic conditions are important in Varroa infestations in México and can dictate the treatment. His conclusions were that while two treatments were necessary in temperate climates, beekeepers can get away with one in more tropical areas.

The Varroa mite has been in Argentina since the early 1970s, where it was introduced from Paraguay. Like in the Yucatán, dispersion was not uniform, according to Dr. Carlos Benedetti, Technical Director of LaVET Laboratories, Inc. This was due to climatic conditions, activities by migratory beekeepers and the kind of honey bee found in different regions of the country. One problem with Varroa is that often it is misdiagnosed by beekeepers who confuse its effects with other bee diseases (American foulbrood, nosema, etc), perhaps similar to Bee Parasitic Mite Sydrome <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis94/apdec94.htm#3>. Another problem is reinfestation of treated colonies by those that have not been treated <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis93/apmar93.htm#1 >. Finally, Dr. Benedetti counseled against use of untried, unregistered materials that might present a danger not only to the bees, but the beekeeper <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/papers/canada.htm#3>.

Dr. William Rubink of the Weslaco Beneficial Insects Laboratory and colleagues reported on the emergency of Varroa resisitance to fluvalinate in the United States. Although mite populations in both Texas and México continue to be susceptible to treatment with fluvalinate, those in Florida are much less so. One operation in central Florida, for example, was unable to control the mites with as many as eight Apistan® strips <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis98/apapr98.htm#1>. Veterinarian Sr. Jesús Llorente Martinez and colleagues also reported on loss of efficacy of Apistan® in Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. The situation appears to be parallel to that in France and Italy, where resistance developed after about a decade of using the same miticide for control <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis97/apmar97.htm#3>.

Many Latin American countries, including México are using Bayvarol®, a polyethylene strip based on the sythetic pyrethroid flumethrin. Because it is related to fluvalinate, preliminary indications are that when Varroa becomes resistant to fluvalinate, they also are to flumethrin. The latter material is used in Cuba, as described by Dr. Mayda Verde, who related that Varroa was first detected in 1996 on the island. The flumethrin product is extremely effective, according to Dr. Verde, and will continue to be used for Varroa in that country. Studies in Cuba were unable to confirm any effects of the product on another mite of importance, Acarapis woodi, the tracheal mite, according to Dr. Verde.

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Breeding for Tolerance for Tracheal and Varroa Mites:

Tracheal mites continue to take their toll in temperate climates <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/threads/tracheal.htm >. The history of tracheal mite introduction was presented by Dr. Don Nelson of Agriculture Canada (Alberta). First detected in 1987, aggressive measures were taken and the affected colonies killed. At the same time, study was begun in Saskatchewan’s remote areas. Infested colonies were found to be less productive. Research was begun at the University of Guelph using New York bees before the mites arrived in Canada. Menthol was evaluated and several slow-release products are now in use. Tracheal mite problems can be severe in Canada and treatment is recommended if levels exceed 5 to 10 percent. Mr. Doug McRory, Provincial Apiarist, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture wrote about efforts by himself and the Ontario Beekeepers Association to control tracheal mites in the proceedings.

The approach is three pronged according to Mr. McRory, including research at the University of Guelph, a breeding program by the Ontario Association and importing bees known or thought to be resistant to tracheal mites. The breeding program was described by Dr. Medhat Nasr, employed by the Ontario Beekeepers Association, who administers the project. Dr. Nasr described a quick test to determine susceptible and tolerant colonies, which then can be selected for breeding purposes. Application of formic acid can significantly reduce tracheal mite populations, Dr. Nasr said, concluding that the breeding program has allowed beekeepers to significantly reduce the number of treatments, in most cases to a single application each year.

The mechanism of honey bee resistance or tolerance to Varroa was also reported. Dr. David DeJong of the Genetics Department, University of São Paulo, described the "particular" situation found in South America. Countries like Brazil do not have a Varroa problem like their neighbors to the south, Uruguay and Argentina. But in these countries, the situation can also be mixed with the mite being more of a problem in temperate regions. Although mostly Africanized bees are found in Brazil, European bees on Fernando de Noronha Island are also tolerant and require no treatment. The resistence or tolerance is probably present in many bee populations, according to Dr. DeJong, but they must be allowed to express it. Unfortunately, humans are extremely quick in treating bees, and in their rush to do so can interfere with nature to the bees’ detriment, he concluded.

In México, there are both genotypic and phenotypic variations in the tolerance of honey bees to Varroa. Dr. Miguel Arechavaleta of the Genetics Department, Autonomous University of México and colleagues suggested this is due to colonies’ ability to somehow control Varroa populations. This trait, the authors said is heritable at the 0.36 level, thus this should be construed as good evidence that developing and maintaining tolerance is indeed possible. Mechanisms for this were described by Dr. Greg Hunt from Purdue University and colleagues. These include:

1. Shorter post-capping time, resulting in fewer daughter mites.
2. Hygienic behavior, removing infested brood.
3. Attractiveness of brood and adult bees.
4. Grooming behavior of honey bees to rid themselves and others of mites.
5. Non-reproduction of mites.

More and more the latter characteristic listed above is recognized as perhaps the most important. However, the authors concluded more needs to be known about whether this trait is attributable to the bee or the mite before it can be effectively used in breeding programs.

Drs. Remy Vandame and Gabriel Otero presented a paper showing their results finding tolerance for Varroa in Mexican honey bees. They reported on the dynamics of bee and mite populations and behavior by adult bees in removing mites from infested brood. The latter characteristic in their conclusion appears to be the most important attribute, especially for Africanized bees (AHB). In general, AHB was found to remove Varroa from about a third of the brood, as compared to European bees, which cleaned less than a tenth of theirs <http://www.ifas.ufl.edu/~mts/spishtm/apis97/apmay97.htm#2>.

Drs. Ernesto Guzmán and Carlos Sosa, along with MPA Miguel Arechavaleta reported on the great variablility in Mexican honey bee populations in tolerating Varroa. Again, they found this to be a heritable trait with a coefficient of 0.36 as reported above, suggesting it is possible to use breeding to conserve the characteristic. Another study by Guzmán and Arechavaleta looked at four possible reasons why honey bees might be tolerant, including mutual grooming, hygienic behavior, attraction of the brood and its effect on mite reproduction. They concluded that most important was mutual grooming and the others were not significant.

Two studies from the Veterinary Faculty at the University of Yucatán reported on damaged Varroa mites found in colonies. These are based on similar work that has been done in Brazil. A correlation between damaged mites and mite populations on adults is thought to indicate tolerance in Apis cerana, and also may do the same for Apis mellifera. Dr. Luis Medina and Veterinarian Laura Espinosa found a high, positive correlation between daily natural mite loss and infestation of adult bees. However, there was not a significant correlation between natural mite fall and damaged/mutilated mites. The same investigators along with others also looked at damaged mites in some detail, classifying them in a number of ways in an attempt to determine how they were injured.

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Winter Bees and Instrumentally Inseminated Queens:

A study by H.R. Matilla, J. Harris and Dr. Gard Otis from Guelph, Canada revealed for the first time temporal variation in winter bee production. Requeening in late July results in a 12-day delay in winter bee production. These bees, therefore, appear in mid-September instead of the beginning of the month. The results based on requeening, resulting in an internal change in the colony, suggest that winter-bee production is not totally affected by cues from outside the hive as many have suggested.

Susan Cobey from The Ohio State University’s Department of Entomology reported on her findings concerning instrumentally-inseminated queens. In all variables tested (honey and brood production and supersedure rates) there were no demonstrated differences between naturally-mated and instrumentally-inseminated queens from New World Carniolan stock. This study also confirms others found in the literature, which also found few differences. These results appear to demonstrate reliability instrumental insemination as a tool for selective breeding.

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Africanized Honey Bees in México:

Africanized bees are now found all over México. They are considered a problem almost everywhere and many programs are in place to deal with these insects, as noted by Dr. Guzmán in his paper mentioned elsewhere in this report. One beekeeper in the state of Tamaulipas revealed a strategy he has used with success. Because of the extreme heat and high degree of Africanization, Veterinarian Héctor Lomeli reported on night time beekeeping in the region. After much experimentation, he found that manipulating colonies using lights covered with red celophane is extremely effective. This technique should be considered by others in this region, according to Mr. Lomeli, (so far, only four beekeepers in the area have adopted it). In general, colonies were not as defensive, the bees did not fly (except on nights with full moon) and the cooler temperatures kept combs from melting under a heavy honey load. Manipulations can be carried on as almost normal, once employees got used to the conditions, except they do not work well in finding queens. The following day colonies were reported as being fully recovered from previous night’s manipulations.

Africanized honey bees came to Yucatán in 1987. The progress of Africanization was described J.J.G. Quezada-Euán and colleagues at the Veterinary Faculty of the Autonomous University of Yucatán. Monitoring managed and wild colonies in fifteen different locations for a decade, the authors reported that over time forewing length became less as did femur length, suggesting Africanization was occurring. A total elimination of colonies with European characteristics has not occurred, according to the authors, and gene flow between both European and African populations is evident. It is still too soon to predict whether European genetic markers will disappear as some have suggested, and/or whether a new hybrid population will emerge <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis93/apdec93.htm#4> and < http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/apis93/apjun93.htm#1>.

Another study looking at enzymes (MDH and HK) in drones also mirrored the morphological situation, with a strong possibility of a hybrid Africanized-European population developing in the peninsula. A study published in 1997 in Bee World (Vol. 78, No. 4, pp. 165-170) by H. Wells and colleagues suggests that these characteristics may provide a basis for alternative Africanization models in México that might also be valid for the United States.

Africanized queens were also looked at for various characteristics by J.C Marrufo and C. Echazarreta, Autonomous University of Yucatán. Queens generally began orientation flights at 7.65 ± 2.32 days. The number of flights were 2.94 ± 1.91 with a duration of one to five minutes.

For queens with only one mating flight, age at which flights were initiated was 9.8 ± 2.0 days, with a duration of 19.6 ± 4.59 minutes. The amount of sperm was 4.894 ± 2.51 million and initiation of egg laying was 13.58 ± 2.8 days. For those with two mating flights, they began at 10.6 ± 1.7 days, with a duration of 40.07 ± 7.27 minutes. Number of sperm was 5.261 ± 1.680 million and the age when egg laying began was 14.3 ± 1.6 days of age.

Mating flights were generally carried out between 2:00 and 7:30 p.m., most between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. Ambient temperature was 33.4 ± 2.6 degrees celsius and humidity was 51.5 ± 9.7 percent, with a wind velocity of 1.0 ± .8 meters per second.

Finding the queen in Africanized honey bee colonies was studied by Dr. A. Correa and colleagues, Autonomous University of México. Smoking colonies 30 times, then examining first under the cover and then in the the super over the brood nest, sometimes simply shaking the bees from the super, found Africanized queens 74 percent of the time, but Europeans only 59.5 percent of the time. Shaking the bees through a queen excluder was slower and less effective. Using both methods in tandem dropped the average time for finding the queen to two minutes. Traditional averages were four minutes. Although efficient, these methods can only be used in remote apiaries where the possibility of stinging incidents would be minimal the authors conclude.

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Commercial Pollination:

Many of the issues surrounding commercial pollination with honey bees in Latin America were the same as found in other parts of the world <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/threads/pollin.htm>. One paper discussed the large industry in Argentina pollinating hybrid sunflowers for seed. Themes discussed included an analysis of regions of importance in the country, and management of the crop and the bees in this specialized enterprise. Another paper described efforts in Chile, where a large variety of fruit and vegetable crops are commercially pollinated. A final discussion surrounding commercial cucumber pollination by honey bees was provided by the president of the Mexican National Beekeepers Association, Ing. Javier Pompa Fernandez.

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Managing bee nutrition was the focus of three papers. Dr. David DeJong of the University of São Paulo (Ribeirão Preto) discussed his research in developing a new assay to determine the effectiveness of protein diets. I discussed the fact that both carbohydrate and protein management is important when feeding bees. Dr. Rogel Villanueva, El Colegio de la Frontera, Sur, Quintana Roo, México discussed bee foraging behavior in Yucatán. Two hundred eight samples of pollen pellets contained 168 different plant species (41 families). Major conclusions were that a dozen species were most prevalent and the bees seemed to prefer a mixture of pollen, rather than single sources. Finally, the presence of a number of plant species being used by honey bees in the region shows that resources are available year around.

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Changes in Yucatecan Beekeeping:

Changes that have occurred in the Peninsula’s beekeeping since I was there in the 1970s were well described at the Congress. Carlos Echazarreta and colleagues reviewed the history of apiculture in the region. In 1995, the last year of census, 726,000 with a density of 5.13 colonies per square kilometer. There are about 18,200 beekeepers, managing an average of about 40 colonies. The average age of beekeepers is 47 years with five years of primary school education.

Of major significance to the Peninsula’s apiculture was arrival of the Africanized honey bee in 1987. This insect did not make the impact many thought it might. Beekeepers were in general prepared by a media campaign and the bee population has not Africanized as rapidly as first thought, as noted elsewhere in this report. This was followed more recently by introduction of Varroa mites (1994), but as reported during the Congress, the mite is not having the impact found in temperate North American regions. Other problems include populations of wax moths, army ants and in certain places, insectivorous birds. Populations of tracheal mites and nosema were also reported to be below damaging levels. There appears to be little incidence of American foulbrood, European foulbrood and chalkbrood. A most interesting phenomenon is a disease called "mal de octubre," which is reminiscent of other conditions seen in apiculture, such as "autumn collapse" or "spring dwindling."

In their conclusions, the authors say that although Yucatán has a well-established honey export industry, further efforts must be aimed at adding value to honey and other hive products to get better market penetration. These are reminiscent of the recommendations I made over twenty years ago. For a fuller treatment of recent developments in Yucatán, see the authors English article in Bee World (1997 Vol. 78, No. 3, pp. 115-127).

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Stingless Bees in México:

A final set of papers during this Congress emphasized the biology of the stingless bees in the region. This activity appears to be making a comeback, similar to increased interest in other parts of Latin America <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/papers/teres.htm#14 >. Those attending the Congress were treated to an indigenous Mayan ceremony called "U’ Hanli Cab," translated as "the bee’s dinner." The purpose of this event is to invoke protection of the ancient Mayan gods, the "muzencabob." These deities control the hives based on the four cardinal points, in the ceremony characterized as "four winds." After chanting, lighting of candles and drinking of a ceremonial corn-based drink (Sakah), the person conducting the ceremony (Hmen) invited all participants to also drink as a symbolic pact of peace and harmony with the beekeeping gods.

Describing the "U’ Hanli Cab" would seem to be the most fitting way to end this article. In spite of all our knowledge gleaned after many years of scientific research and personal experience, we still know precious little about managing the infinitely complex honey bee. Maybe beekeepers everywhere should take a page out of the Mayan prayer book. Performing ones own "U’ Hanli Cab" prior to the beginning of each active beekeeping season couldn’t hurt and might do a lot of good.

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© 1999, M.T. Sanford, "All Rights Reserved"