Page last updated at 15:22 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 16:22 UK

Isle of Man bees posted to UK to help save ailing hives

Diseased bees will eat through icing sugar to greet their new queen

Queen bees are to be posted to the UK by the Manx Government's bee inspector to try to bolster the mainland's ailing hive populations.

A dozen healthy Manx queens will be mailed in ventilated envelopes in a pilot project to discover if they can take over and cure diseased hives.

The island's bees are disease-free after Tynwald passed a law in 1987 to ban the import of foreign bees.

The queens will replace infected ones and may gradually spawn new colonies.

Our bees are among the healthiest in the world
Harry Owens, bee disease officer and inspector

Small matchbox-sized cages containing a single queen and up to five mating drones will be sent individually to UK keepers in Birmingham and Stockport, who have hives affected by debilitating viruses.

Manx government bee disease officer and inspector, Harry Owens said: "Our bees are among the healthiest in the world and it would be nice to see if they could take over diseased colonies."

If successful, it is possible that the Isle of Man may export healthy bees as a commercial venture, he said.

Kill the queen

"The keeper will take out and kill the existing queen and put the cage, which contains a bit of icing sugar, in the hive.

"The diseased worker bees will eat through the icing to release the queen, by which time they will have accepted her as their own," said Mr Owens.

The queen's and drones' healthy offspring will then repopulate the hive over a 46-day period as the last of the diseased bees die off, said Mr Owens.

UK agriculturalists and ecologists are alarmed by the extent of bee population declines because of their crucial role in pollinating crops.

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