Artificial Insemination at VP Queen Bees
We use artificial insemination to make all of our breeding crosses. Honey bees mate naturally away from their hives. To breed, one selects desirable parents. We need to choose both the sire and dam in our crosses. Artificial insemination provides this ability to us. By choosing the queen mothers and drone mothers, we are able to make crosses that continue to perform and express the desirable qualities we and our customers want.
An example: imagine a prize race horse, in heat, being free to roam the farm, mating with any stallion. What are the chances her foal will be a winner? Certainly less good then if she was bred to a prize male suited to compliment her.
Of the many essential components needed to successfully use Artificial Insemination to breed bees, pre and post care of the queen, collection and storage of the semen and the actual technique used to perform the insemination are three extremely important ones. Meticulous attention to detail in these areas ensures a productive AI breeder queen.
Although methods differ, the following general principles are similar for all who use AI in honey bees breeding. Virgins are matured until they are 7 days old, then they may be inseminated. Semen is collected from mature drones (2 weeks old) to provide the highest sperm count. Queens need two periods of anaesthesia (CO2 narcosis) before they will lay eggs regularly and the whole process must always be as sterile as possible. Each AI program uses these principles and adapts their protocol around them and the season, operation, equipment and preferences.
As with honey bee queen production, to get the best possible outcome in the cross, both the virgin and the drones must be raised with the necessary nutrients and attending bees to ensure they receive the nutrition needed to maximize their physical and physiological potential: the virgins and drones must be optimally healthy!
AI queen production is a highly specialized part of Apiculture. Producers are constantly refining their techniques for production. There's never a dull moment producing AI or instrumentally inseminated breeder queens!
VP Insemination Services
We can make inseminated breeder queens to order, per your specifications: we offer several cross options. We can use genetic resources from our stock, another breeder's stock, yours or any combination that suits you.
Semen from VSH expressing VP breeding stock is available for you to do your own inseminations. Semen is collected and stored in capillary tubes for efficient shipping to your insemination lab. (International shipments require adherence to importation regulations: please check your importation regulations).
VP's Mackensen-type device set up for semen collection. Harbo syringe on left of device.
Preparation for AI session. Kelly readies queen holder and is adjusting CO2 flow. Adam is preparing clipping & numbering station while waiting for virgins to defecate in large glass jars prior to placing in queen tube; to hand-off to Kelly for the AI.
Kelly positioning virgin in queen tube prior to administering CO2 and starting the AI process. Notice virgin "on deck" in the large jar on left. If the virgin defecates in the jar, she'll not do so while being inseminated, making the process much easier and more sterile!
A close-up view showing Kelly positioning the virgin, prior to her CO2 anaesthesia. The CO2 tube on the left fits into the queen tube's base, providing a modular unit that mounts on the Mackensen device, holding the anaesthetized virgin in place.
Virgin almost ready for AI: right sting hook is attached. Left ventral hook in position. Notice tip and syringe in position (above right) and how the virgin in the queen holder is positioned on the device, the CO2 being delivered and the angle of the queen.
View of dorsal sting hook, ventral hook, queen in holder under CO2, prior to AI: semen in tip of syringe, above.
Newly inseminated queen recovering from CO2 treatment.
Sometimes we'll give virgins their CO2 treatment a day after AI. This is a batch brought in from their nucs, being treated. They are waking up.
AI queen nucs: CO2 for treatment, vacuum for cleaning out nucs. Nuc entrances are excluded to keep virgins/queens from flying.
AI queen introduction using a large push-in cage over emerging brood. Photo Credit: Sourwood Farm, Earlysville, VA 22936
Drone collection. Drone colonies are excluded and mature (mostly) drones are then collected at the colony entrance. During peak drone production, one can collect enough drones for 10 AI queens in 20 minutes!
Drone collection close-up. Notice the different drone phenotypes/coloration. These drones are from the same queen! Drone selection is as important as queen selection when using AI to control both sides of the cross.
Drone colony in full swing. This is how we like to find them when collecting. Notice the wide array of drone phenotypes/colorations
this queen is producing. Amazing!
Incubator: cells are maturing and ready to hatch into cages: we hatch all our virgins into cages with 5 attendent bees. This requires charging cages with attendants prior to cell hatch--done the day before hatch. One of Kelly's favourite tasks!