Shedding Light on the Secret Reproductive Lives of Honey Bees

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Dee Shore | 1/13/2021 | North Carolina State University CALS News

Honey bee health has been on the decline for two decades, with U.S. and Canadian beekeepers now losing about 25 to 40% of their colonies annually. And queen bees are failing faster than they have in the past in their ability to reproduce. The reason has been a mystery, but researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of British Columbia are finding answers.

Their latest research, published Jan. 8 in the journal Communications Biology, offers clues about what’s behind queen bee failure, finding that when sperm viability is low, the expression of a protein known to act against pathogens such as bacteria and viruses is high.

David Tarpy, a University Faculty Scholar and professor in NC State’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, says the study has important implications for beekeepers and their customers, the farmers who rely on honey bees to pollinate their crops.

“Beekeepers have identified problem queens as a top management concern, but what’s causing the problem is largely invisible. Queens go bad, and we don’t know why,” Tarpy said.

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