The Varroa mite had just arrived to Sweden and scared us as the AIDS of bees, not aid of bees. It's still the big challenge for our western honeybee. Anyway I just got a gut feeling I had to have bees that could handle the mite themselves to be able to continue being a beekeeper. So when van der Zee 1988 wanted to go to Kenya for Monticola bees I looked around in Sweden for people to join the team. I had met van der Zee the year before in connection with Brother Adam.
The breeding material we managed to get was aimed for Buckfast Abbey, but also for ourselves. Many contributed with funds, but we also put in money ourselves.
In March 1989 Dr Bert Thrybom, Erik Bjorklund, Michael van der Zee and I went for two adventurous weeks to the high mountains in Kenya. Why Africa?
There are millions of swarms flying back and forth in Africa as well as more stationary types of bees. The genetic treasury is huge. Man has not been able to erode the genetic variation here through thoughtless inbreeding.
A small fraction, and not the best one, of African genetics were let loose by accident in South America and lay the ground for what Hollywood called the Killer bee.
The African bee is not the original host of the varroa mite. It is closely related to our western type of bee. It is also an Apis mellifera bee. Not an Apis cerana bee. And this Apis mellifera managed to adapt into a resistant type of bee in only a few years in South America, maybe 5 years or so.
Of course it’s interesting to find out under what circumstances a mellifera bee in only a few years can develop resistance? Something valuable would be learned.
Anyway, that was the reasoning behind going to Africa for breeding material. Something was present in Africa that made bees develop resistance relatively quickly. We didn't know what.
We didn't like aggressive bees or bees that easily absconded, so we went for a bee that didn't abscond and was relatively easy to handle. We went to the mountains of East Africa, to Kenya.
Later resistance developed in African bees again, now in South Africa, in about 5 years. And now also the Varroa mite has arrived to east Africa and the bees there have shown themselves to tolerate the mite well.
Today we most probably know the cause for the ability to develop varroa resistance quickly. Natural genetic diversity and small natural cellsize.