Beyond body size: Using honey bee queen behaviour to predict queen quality and colony success


Smith T, Hoover SE, Labuschagne R, Pernal SF, Rueppell O (2022) Beyond body size: Using honey bee queen behaviour to predict queen quality and colony success. 2022 Entomological Society of America, Entomological Society of Canada and Entomological Society of British Columbia Joint Annual Meeting, 13-16 Nov 2022, Vancouver, BC.


Honey bee health is important to the apicultural industry and many other agricultural producers that benefit from the honey bees’ pollination. Thus, the decline in honey bee health is a serious concern. As the sole reproductive egg layer in a colony, the queen plays a pivotal role in the success of a colony and beekeepers often cite queen quality as one the main reasons for colony loss. Although queen quality can be assessed relatively easily after establishment using colony traits, it is important for beekeepers to have evaluative measures for predicting a queen’s quality prior to her introduction into a colony. Historically, queens are assessed by size and colour. However, the queen’s behaviour may be also be predictive of future colony success because locomotion and response to environmental cues are complex tasks. In this study, we evaluated queen behaviours and related them to morphometric measurements and colony-level performance traits. Locomotion, phototaxis, and tendency to move up an incline were compared to standard body size measurements in 180 queens. For forty-five of those queens, we measured ovary weight, ovariole number, spermatheca size, and sperm count and viability. We installed the remaining 135 queens in colonies and recorded colony traits such as number of frames of bees and honey yield. Identifying quick behavioural assays that beekeepers can conduct on queens prior to their installment into the colony, or that queen breeders can use on their queens prior to their sale, may result in much greater efficiencies for the beekeeping industry.

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