- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Sue Cobey is world renowned for her work in trying "to build a better bee." With colleagues, she collects drone semen throughout Europe and deposits it in Washington State University's honey bee germplasm repository, aka "the world's first bee sperm bank." Cobey works closely with entomologist Steve Sheppard, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Entomology.
Cobey is renowned, too, for teaching courses on queen bee insemination and queen bee-rearing courses. She draws students from all over the world, and there's always, always, a waiting list.
We first met Sue in May 2007 when she began managing the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis (she's now based at WSU).
You won't find anyone, anywhere, more passionate about honey bees or the need for diversity. Or the need to protect them. In October 2010, she told us that her overall goal "is to improve colony health to supply the critical and demanding need for pollination of the nation's agricultural crops."
Reporter Joel Millman of the Wall Street Journal successfully captures Cobey's passion.
Cobey talks about queen bee insemination, why bees are in trouble, and why the United States needs to unplug the genetic bottleneck. Honey bees, you see, are not natives. European colonists brought them to what is now the United States in 1622. Indeed, honey bees didn't arrive in California until 1853.
Cobey is especially fond of the subspecies, the Carniolans, originating from Slovenia. But she also works with Caucasians from the country of Georgia, and the Italians, the most common bee reared in the United States. To paraphrase Will Rogers, she's never found a bee she didn't like.
We are continually asked if Cobey still offers queen bee insemination classes. Yes, she does, but they're small, private classes. She will offer the classes in July and August. She also plans to teach a queen-rearing class at Mt. Vernon, Wash.. Dates not set. (She can be reached at email@example.com)
Meanwhile, Cobey is working her hives on Whidbey Island and doing research at WSU. And enjoying every minute of it.
The Queen Bee of the Queen Bees--that she is.