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Instrumental Insemination

I was first introduced to Instrumental Insemination (I.I.) after Micheal Mac purchased an Instrumental Insemination Apparatus from Tom Kehoe in the mid nineties. At the time we did not know it, but he had purchased the very best equipment on the market, i.e. the Dr Schley insemination apparatus.

With a Karl Zeiss microscope, and all the bits and pieces to go with it, this truly looked like a magnificent piece of equipment, but unfortunately I would have had more use for a spade. We assembled it as best we thought and as they say gave it a few coats of “looking on”.

We got some literature from BIBBA on I.I. and the most important piece of this was a copy of Dr R.F.A. Moritz’s book “The Instrumental Insemination of the Queen Bee”. This is an excellent guide in the whole procedure of I.I. It covers all aspects of Insemination, Queen Rearing, Drone Production to the taking and insemination of the Queen with semen.

Now with all this knowledge to hand, we still made no attempt to inseminate a Queen. Micheal then contacted Jos Hillen and Barry Greenwood, and asked if they would give a demonstration on I.I. at Gormanston Summer Course. They both kindly agreed and the instructions were issued as to the requirements for the demonstration.

Both Barry and Jos took me through all stages of the procedure, from sterilization of equipment, to taking semen, and finally the insemination of the poor Queen. I thought that if I could see this being performed that it would be much easier, and it was.

Unfortunately it seemed even more difficult than the book said. After a lot of tuition and help I managed to perform the operation, but the Queen died. Both men are to be congratulated for the effort they made to instruct me.

Micheal and myself came home from Gormanston loaded down with plans, knowledge, and a predictable fear of the unknown. After coming home we were eager to try out our new found knowledge.

So it began. All the equipment was sterilized, this is done by boiling all metal parts for 15 minutes in water. The tip, which is the tube, used to hold the semen for insemination is sterllliized by steam produced by heat from a gas torch within the needle.

The apparatus was then set up on a sterilized table and the drones collected. When we tried to take the semen, all of a sudden the drones did not evert like they did in Gormanston for us. Maybe the drones were too young or weren’t fed enough. We must be doing it right.

When eventually we had collected the 8 microlitres…of valuable semen it was time to inseminate the Queen. “Simple”! The Queen was anaesthetised in a honey jar with CO2 from a beer cylinder, she was then put into the queen holder and mounted in the apparatus.

After much difficulty the sting was put through the hole in the sting hook. Who ever said that threading a needle was easy? The Queen was then opened to flatten the valve fold, again not so simple. To spare the details the queen was not inseminated for some hours, and again died.

Not to be deterred by my lack of ability we tried and tried again. After some time either through good luck or a small improvement in ability, we began to have some success.

In the years since that first attempt I have improved and now find that the insemination of Queens is as easy as clipping a Queen. Although I still feel the same as when you pick up your first Queen each season and go for the scissors.

Micheal and I have used I.I. to great benefit in the breeding programme over the past few years and have crossed numerous lines for testing. Other Group members have also received I.I. Queens for testing and they seem to be quite good in their behavioural characteristics.

Last year I also travelled to the U.K. on two occasions, the first was in June when I went to Albert Knight. The reason for going was that BIBBA have set up a programme, to try to develop a strain of bee which has good hygienic behaviour, and thereby damages a large proportion of the Varroa mites. In so doing a lower mite level is maintained within the colony.

I successfully inseminated 45 Queens on that trip and the results are very promising. There is an increase in the number of mites damaged in the colonies that are being monitored.

The second trip was to the BBKA Headquarters in Stoneleigh where I gave a workshop on I.I. We have come a long way since that first poor Queen in Gormanston.

Redmond Williams