English for beekeepers varroa mites

What is survivor stock?

Recently, during a discussion with a professor of entomology who is also a beekeeper, I used the term “survivor stock.” He looked at me as if I’d just left my ship hovering above a corn field, slid down the chute, and landed on three feet.

It reminded me of why I write Wednesday Wordphile in the first place: because a word or term that is obvious to one person may be completely foreign to another. Nothing jeopardizes communication faster.

Okay, so survivor stock can be any organism that survives a stressful event and lives to tell about it. The “event” can be anything that a scientist wants to study. With honey bees, the event may be winter. Or it may be a predator, pathogen, parasite, or poison. The survivors of the event are then used to breed more bees in the hope that the genetics that allowed survival will be passed on to the next generation.

Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Some other random or unknown cause may have allowed certain individuals to survive, and this external (or exogenous) variable may have nothing to do with the bees’ genetics. But you don’t know that in the beginning, so you experiment. You raise bees from the survivors and see if those bees can survive similar conditions.

Today the term is most often associated with Varroa mites. The survivor stock is comprised of bees that successfully overwintered in the presence of Varroa mites with no chemical treatments. If the offspring of these bees is also able to survive in the presence of mites, breeders will be on their way to producing a Varroa-resistant strain.


  • Hi,

    I think the term ‘survivor stock’ is more commonly used to describe feral bees that have adapted to varroa naturally – by natural selection of the fittest in places remote enough from treated bees to allow this to occur.

    The usage is probably technically doubtful – the term ‘stocks’ generally refers to domesticated individuals. But the idea is good and many people are coming to appreciate the value of such robust genetic material to the aim of raising mite-tolerant apiary bees. And many people are doing just that – it isn’t complicated, and is recognised to be the only sustainable solution to varroa.

    Best wishes,


  • Our bees have overwintered for the past 3 years and do have mites, but we use one dribble treatment of oxalic acid in late fall. So far so good. I am assuming that oxalic acid is considered a “chemical” treatment?

    • Rebecca,

      It depends on how you define it. It’s not a chemical designed as a pesticide but is commonly used as wood bleach. It kills the mites because of it’s high acidity. Honey bees are much less sensitive to high acidity, so they can withstand larger doses. Some people refer to this type of treatment as a “soft” chemical, as opposed to “hard” chemicals which are manufactured with the express purpose of killing things.

  • Wouldn’t the term apply to any wild hive of Africanized bees also? Just getting started keeping. I am in Brazilian mountains.

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