The New World Carniolan (NWC) breeding program was founded in 1982, modeled on the Page-Laidlaw Closed Population Breeding concept. The program was established to select and maintain a Carniolan population to provide quality queens to the industry. The NWC was initiated and established at Vaca Valley Apiaries in California by Susan Cobey and Tim Lawrence, operating from 1981 to 1990. From here, the NWC program moved with Cobey to several Universities: The Ohio State University from 1990-2007, University of California, Davis from 2007-2012 and to Washington State University from 2010-2023. This provided a working model for teaching purposes and allowed more focus on the breeding program.
The NWC program, by design, offered something different than the popular Italian honey bees of the time. Carniolans were chosen because beekeepers had difficulty maintaining these in the U.S. The predominance of Italian bees and their drones in mating areas diluted the characteristics of the Carniolans. Over several seasons, we collected stocks with Carniolan background from across the U.S. and Canada. Selecting Carniolan traits, backcrosses were made using instrumental insemination to establish the New World Carniolan strain. Over time, we grew to admire these industrious, elegant bees increasingly.
We requested to import Austrian A.m. carnica semen in the mid- 80’s. Though given the political climate, it was not until 2007 a USDA-APHIS permit was granted. Working with Dr. Steve Sheppard at Washington State University, European A.m. carnica germplasm from Austria and Slovenia has been added to the NWC line. The addition of genetic diversity has increased general vigor and extends the life of the NWC program.
The WSU project to import germplasm from the native range of European honey bees was designed is to increase genetic diversity to enhance the U.S. honey bee gene pool. Under USDA-APHIS permit, importations were limited to honey bee semen, and underwent strict quarantine regulations to reduce risks. From the Republic of Georgia, germplasm of A.m. caucasica has been imported. NWC facilitated re-establishment of Caucasian stock, another dark, cold weather adapted bee. The maternal Carniolan line, was sequentially backcrossed to Caucasian germplasm to re-established a strain of Caucasian bees in the U.S.
The key to the longevity of the NWC Closed Population Breeding Program is dependent upon these basic principles:
1. Maintaining a large genetically diverse population
2. Selection criteria that are simple and practical
3. Genetic control through instrumental insemination.
4. Maintaining selection pressure on the population over time
5. Record keeping
A detailed description of the Page-Laidlaw closed population breeding theory, and its practical application is provided under the resources tab on this website. The program is based upon selection for general performance of a population over time. Using the Page-Laidlaw system, a population of several hundred colonies, headed by instrumentally inseminated queens, are tested and several characteristics evaluated simultaneously. After selection for general productivity, specific traits that confer increased tolerance/resistance to pests and diseases are selected. The top-performing colonies, a third of the population, are selected as breeders to produce the next generation test population of instrumentally inseminated queens. This process is repeated annually, maintaining selection pressure on the population over time. Instrumentally inseminated breeder queens are provided to beekeepers and commercial queen producers who produce open-mated production queens for the industry.
Heading into its 40th generation, the NWC is undergoing a transition to be maintained into the future by two NWC Producer Partners in northern CA.: Strachan Apiaries and Buzz's Bees. Buzz and Nicole Landon of Buzz's Bees and Valeri Severson and her son Phillip Russell of Strachan Apiaries produce NWC breeders and production queens.
For information of NWC availability, contact:
Buzz's Bees (530) 532-4302
Strachan Apiaries (530) 674-3881
As young and idealistic beekeepers, we had the encouragement of outstanding mentors. At the University of Davis, CA., we followed the development of Drs. Robert Page and Harry H. Laidlaw. theory of Closed Population Breeding and applied this. Cobey also benefitted from training in insemination from Dr. Harry Laidlaw at UCD and Dr. John Harbo at the USDA Baton Rouge Lab. This support encouraged the establishment of the NWC.
Increasingly, the NWC breeding population expressed uniform dark coloration, gentle temperament, fast spring buildup, reduced late season brood production, excellent wintering ability with low consumption. These traits were favored by northern beekeepers. Selection for reduced incidence of pests and diseases also became a significant selection criterion. Today, NWC is an industry standard.
We reached out to Dr. Friedrich Ruttner, a renowned bee geneticist from Austria (1914-1998), who headed the Austrian Carnica Association at the time. His visit, viewing our program in the initial stages, provided encouragement. His analysis of samples tested by morphometrics revealed our Carniolan population did not meet the strict criteria for "pure Am. carnica subspecies." However, Dr. Ruttner described our NWC line as the most Carniolan like bees he had ever seen in the United States and Canada. The NWC program was still young, and the background of various stocks of mixed races used to establish the population remained a factor. By appearance and behaviors, the NWC strongly expressed traditional Carniolan characteristics.
Establishment & Maintenance of The New World Carniolan Closed Population Breeding Program
Honey Bee Insemination Service