Scientists find clues to queen bee failure

Image of beekeeper holding up frame of honey bees.

(University of British Columbia) Scientists are unraveling the mysteries behind a persistent problem in commercial beekeeping that is one of the leading causes of colony mortality: queen bee failure. This occurs when the queen fails to produce enough fertilized eggs to maintain the hive. New research has identified specific proteins that are activated in queen bees under different stressful conditions (extreme heat, extreme cold, and pesticide exposure) that can affect the viability of the sperm stored in the honey bee queen’s body.

This rare, mutant honeybee is both male and female

Image of gynandromorph honey bee.

(National Geographic) While checking his hives this June, a master beekeeper discovered something highly unusual. Whereas all the other honeybees in the hive had normal black eyes, one insect sported a pair of creamy yellow peepers that were impossible to miss. And that wasn’t all. When the beekeeper looked closer, he realized that not only were the bee’s eyes off-color, but they were abnormally large. In fact, they looked like the radar-dish eyes typical of male honeybees, or drones, despite the fact that the rest of the bee—the abdomen, stinger, and wings—were clearly female.

Helping honey bees make it through winter with early cold storage

Image of beekeeper with hives in field.

(USDA ARS) Putting honey bees into early indoor cold storage in October rather than November increases their chances of surviving the winter and the colonies emerge readier to pollinate almonds. Overwintering managed honey bee colonies in indoor cold storage in states such as Idaho has become increasingly popular with beekeepers because, in the cold, bees don’t need to forage for food, be fed by beekeepers, or be treated for parasitic Varroa mites — a serious pest of honey bees. This cuts down on beekeepers’ costs and can greatly reduce overwintering colony losses.

Scientists decode honey bee queen toots and quacks in hive

Image of honey bees on comb.

(BBC) Worker bees make new queens by sealing eggs inside special cells with wax and feeding them royal jelly. The queens quack when ready to emerge – but if two are free at the same time, they will fight to the death. So when one hatches, its quacks turn to toots, telling the workers to keep the others – still quacking – captive.

Pesticides disrupt honey bee nursing behavior and larval development

Image of honey bee cells with larvae.

(ScienceDaily/Goethe University Frankfurt) A newly developed video technique has allowed scientists to record the complete development of a honey bee in its hive. Researchers discovered that neonicotinoids caused nurse bees to feed the larvae less often. Larval development also took up to 10 hours longer; a longer development period in the hive can foster infestation by parasites.

Bumble bee disease, reproduction shaped by flowering strip plants

Image of bee on sunflower.

(NC State University) Flowering strips can help offset pollinator decline but may also bring risks of higher pathogen infection rates for pollinators foraging in those strips. Bumble bees exposed to certain plants showed higher rates of infection by Crithidia bombi, a bee pathogen that is associated with reduced bee-foraging abilities as well as mortality in food-compromised bees.

Honey bees could help monitor fertility loss in insects due to climate change

Image of honey bees with egg cells.

(ScienceDaily/University of British Columbia) Heat can kill sperm cells across the animal kingdom, yet there are few ways to monitor the impact of heat on pollinators like honey bees, who can serve as a bellwether for wider insect fertility losses due to climate change. Now, researchers used a technique called mass spectrometry to analyze sperm stored in honey bee queens and found five proteins that are activated when the queens are exposed to extreme temperatures. “Just like cholesterol levels are used to indicate the risk of heart disease in humans, these proteins could indicate whether a queen bee has experienced heat stress. If we start to see patterns of heat shock emerging among bees, that’s when we really need to start worrying about other insects.”