Controlled Mating and Hygienic Behaviour

The effect of one generation of controlled mating on the expression of hygienic behaviour in honey bees

Gianluigi Bigio*1,3, Hasan Al Toufailia1 , William O H Hughes2 , Francis L W Ratnieks1

Honey bee mating cannot be directly controlled in the same way as in many agriculturally important animals. Instrumental insemination is, however, possible and can be used as an aid in selective breeding. Hygienic behaviour, in which worker bees detect and remove dead or diseased brood from capped cells, is a heritable trait that confers colony-level resistance against brood diseases. Using the freeze-killed brood (FKB) bioassay we compared the levels of hygiene in colonies headed by daughter queens reared from hygienic mother colonies that were either instrumentally inseminated with sperm from drones reared from hygienic colonies or allowed to mate naturally with naturally-occurring drones. Hygiene levels were significantly higher in the colonies of the instrumentally inseminated queens than in the colonies of the naturally-mated queens. However, the hygiene levels in the naturally-mated colonies were encouragingly high and indicate that supplying beekeepers with naturally-mated queens, or virgin queens to mate locally, can result in colonies with high levels of hygiene.

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Apis mellifera, hygienic behaviour, instrumental insemination, natural mating, breeding