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Effects of temperature extremes on queens and impacts on colony performance

Guarna MM, Pernal SF, Joselow K, Pettis JS (2017) Effects of temperature extremes on queens and impacts on colony performance. North American Beekeeping Conference and Tradeshow 2017, 10-14 Jan 2017, Galveston, TX. (Invited)


The health and performance of honey bee queens is an important factor determining colony productivity and colony losses. The queen is the only reproductive female in the colony and her ability to lay fertilized eggs depends on the sperm stored after mating. Thus, recent studies have focused on assessing the quality of the sperm and have shown that the viability of the queen’s sperm can be affected by temperature and chemical exposure. We will present results on the effect of exposing queens to temperature extremes, both in the laboratory and during shipments, and how temperature alters the viability of queen’s sperm. We compared sperm viability before and after shipment while monitoring temperature fluctuations in the shipment boxes. The sperm viability of queens was over 80%, both at the site of origin in Northern California and at destination in Northern Alberta. However, a parallel shipment to Maryland resulted in a significant decrease in queen’s sperm viability of 30%. Analysis of temperature profiles during transport showed that the queens had been exposed to a spike in temperature over 40°C. Taken together, the results demonstrated that queens can be exposed to temperature stress during shipment and that this, in turn, can result in a reduction of sperm viability, even when queens appear healthy. Colony level studies were initiated in 2016 to assess the effect of temperature-induced reduction in queen sperm viability on queen and colony performance. We will present results on queen performance, queen supersedure events, brood pattern, and colony strength assessments. Finally, we will discuss how these results can guide queen producers and beekeepers on queen handling and management decisions that may have a profound effect on beekeeper operations, reducing the need for frequent queen replacement and improving colony productivity and survival.

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