Honey bees are known to be quite hygienic. They take care to ensure that their hive is clean. Nearly all hives are experts at removing foreign substances from their home – debris, non-welcomed insects, etc. Some hives even go as far as to remove problematic substances that could cause disease to take hold of their hive. These are the colonies that tend to survive despite many of the pathogens killing bees today.
The Boise State Bee Team and I were able to witness Washington State University undergo an experiment to determine which colonies were exhibiting this helpful hygienic behavior, and thus utilize the queens from those colonies for breeding purposes. The experiment was fascinating! The picture below shows the first step of this experiment. The researchers found a frame of solid capped brood and pushed a tin can (with both round ends cut out) into the brood, creating a sectioned area that was then separated from the rest of the frame.
The next step was to pour liquid nitrogen into the tin can. See the video below. This would freeze kill the brood within that sectioned area, but leave the rest of the brood unharmed. They would let the liquid nitrogen do it’s work for a minute until it vaporized. Next, the can was removed and the frame of brood was returned to the hive.
The researchers would then give the colony a couple of days before returning. The colonies with strong hygienic behavior would remove some or all of the dead brood. The less hygienic hives wouldn’t remove much or any of the dead brood. The queens from the more hygienic hives were then utilized for their queen breeding program.
Hygienic behavior, like worker bees removing dead brood, can be a key method to preventing disease from taking over a hive. The goal is to then create future stock of queens that will pass down these behaviors to the worker bees she mothers. Washington State is doing some pretty amazing research that can help all of us beekeepers to manage the problems facing our hives (like Varroa mites) in more natural ways. If the bees can manage these problems on their own, we as beekeepers don’t have to intervene nearly as often! Win-win.
Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!