"Colour of Bees in a Colony"
I think colour is very important - and here's why.
I have heard it said by speakers on queen rearing and bee breeding that the colour of bees in a colony isn't important, but I disagree. To my way of thinking you won't get consistent bees if the colours vary, because it shows mixed parentage. I believe this is one reason why many of the colonies in the U.K. are so inconsistant in behaviour and performance.
I have to admit to liking dark bees of the native type, as they suit the kind of management system I have developed. For that reason I have described below what I do. In general I find yellow bees are more prolific and I struggle to keep them in single brood box national hives. If you like yellow bees, I haven't a problem with that, but what I say you will have to substitute yellow for black.
The reasons I think colour is important is because I use it as an indicator on how my selection is going. 10-15 years ago the bees in my area of West Sussex were what I called "British Standard Mongrels". As well as having variable temperament, they were variable colour as well. Many colonies had virtually all yellow worker bees, some less, but most had well over 50%. The degree of yellow on individual bees varied considerably, showing a high level of mongrelisation. Many of the drones were yellowish.
My thinking is:-
- If you raise queens from a colony their colour will reflect that of the workers they would have been if they weren't converted into queens, i.e. If 80% of workers are yellow, then 80% of the queens will be. If you let queens emerge in colonies/nucs where they are to be mated, the yellow ones will have to be culled fairly quickly. This adds time to your programme, but a way of shortcutting this is to let queens emerge into cages and cull them at that stage. You will need to produce many more queens than you need, based on the percentage of dark workers. If you have 20% dark workers in a colony and you raise 10 queens, then expect no more than 1 or 2 dark queens. Be aware they may not be as dark as you want, but you need to start somewhere.
- The colour of drones is important. It is perfectly possible for dark queens to produce yellowish drones. These must be culled quickly, but in a few generations these will reduce.
- Within a few generations I found the percentage of yellow in a colony dropped dramatically and so did the number of yellow drones. I had the support of local beekeepers and with their help I was able to give queens and queen cells away.
What has been interesting is that as the bees got darker they became less prolific and needed much less feeding, so the bees were helping me satisfy my criteria.
- If you have a queen that is producing a large number of yellow workers, but dark drones you can leave her as a drone breeder,
but make sure you don't raise queens from her.
- I have removed several hundred colonies of bees from wild places.
The vast majority of them have been much darker than the managed colonies in the same area. If they have been there for more
than a couple of years the amount of workers with yellow bands is low. You don't get yellow queens or drones like you do in
local managed colonies and certainly not those blonde queens that have been bred to look attractive to amateur beekeepers.
This tells me they simply don't survive.