Nav: Home

Queens, sex and colony collapse

October 04, 2016

When a queen has sex with many different partners, it can increase her risk of infection with venereal disease. It can also lead to the collapse of her colony. This might read like ingredients for a juicy novel, but for bees it is reality.

Scientists from Aarhus University have teamed up with American and German colleagues and found that the mating behaviour of queen bees increases the risk of the whole colony succumbing to the syndrome Colony Collapse Disorder because of a venereal disease.

In order to understand how this works you need to know a few things about the mating behaviour of bees.

When the bee colony's queen decides to mate, she flies a certain distance away from the beehive. She is drawn towards a particular goal: a concentrated swarm of randy drones that are gathered in the air in a so-called congregation area. In this buzzing confusion of drones the queen bee mates with several different males.

The drone, on the other hand, has only one shot. This is, however, quite dramatic, in that he blasts his semen into the queen. This explosive ejaculation leads to separation of the drone's penis from his body, his falling over backwards and dying shortly afterwards. The drone leaves part of his penis behind in the queen's body.

Mating with built-in risk

The scientists have now shown that the drone leaves behind not only his semen and part of his penis in the queen. His calling card can also include a virus that may infect the queen with the disease deformed wing virus. Since the queen mates with multiple partners in the course of a mating event, there are multiple risks of small Trojan horses being left behind in her.

All the queens in the study came from bee colonies that were free of infection with deformed wing virus. The drones in the control group also came from colonies without deformed wing virus while several of the drones in the experimental group were infected with the disease.

The research team, which consisted of scientists from the German bee research institute LLH Bieneninstitut, University of North Carolina, and Aarhus University, caught the queen bees on the queens' way home from mating. If the queen contained a piece of the drone penis (endophallus), this endophallus was removed and examined for deformed wing virus.

The scientists remove the endophallus from the mated queen. Photo: Roy Mathew Francis

Virus throughout the body

The results showed that queens that had mated with drones infected with deformed wing virus also often became infected with the disease. Virus was found in both the sexual organs and other body parts of the queens.

- We found answers to three essential questions: that drones infected with deformed wing virus are capable of mating naturally with queens, that deformed wing virus can be transmitted by natural mating, and that virus particles can be found throughout the body in mated queens shortly after mating, says senior scientists Per Kryger from the Department of Agroecology and continues:

- A significant portion of failed bee colonies is due to failure of the queen. This could explain the frequent loss of queens, since deformed wing virus can shorten the bees' life span. It is a serious problem when the queen dies and often means that the whole colony collapses.
-end-


Aarhus University

Related Bees Articles:

Bees grooming each other can boost colony immunity
Honeybees that specialise in grooming their nestmates (allogroomers) to ward off pests play a central role in the colony, finds a new UCL and University of Florence study published in Scientific Reports.
Microalgae food for honey bees
A microscopic algae ('microalgae') could provide a complete and sustainably sourced supplemental diet to boost the robustness of managed honey bees, according to research just published by Agricultural Research Service scientists in the journal Apidologie.
Bees point to new evolutionary answers
Evolutionary biology aims to explain how new species arise and evolve to occupy myriad niches -- but it is not a singular or simplistic story.
Quantifying objects: bees recognize that six is more than four
A new study at the University of Cologne proves that insects can perform basic numerical cognition tasks.
Prescribed burns benefit bees
Freshly burned longleaf pine forests have more than double the total number of bees and bee species than similar forests that have not burned in over 50 years, according to new research from North Carolina State University.
Insecticides are becoming more toxic to honey bees
Researchers discover that neonicotinoid seed treatments are driving a dramatic increase in insecticide toxicity in U.S. agricultural landscapes, despite evidence that these treatments have little to no benefit in many crops.
Neonicotinoids: Despite EU moratorium, bees still at risk
Since 2013, a European Union moratorium has restricted the application of three neonicotinoids to crops that attract bees because of the harmful effects they are deemed to have on these insects.
Bees 'surf' atop water
Ever see a bee stuck in a pool? He's surfing to escape.
How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.
Where are the bees? Tracking down which flowers they pollinate
Earlham Institute (EI), with the University of East Anglia (UEA), have developed a new method to rapidly identify the sources of bee pollen to understand which flowers are important for bees.
More Bees News and Bees Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.