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Facultative expression of hygienic behaviour of honey bees in relation to disease resistance

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Journal of Apicultural Research

Vol. 32 (3-4) pp. 147-157
December 1993
Article Title

Facultative expression of hygienic behaviour of honey bees in relation to disease resistance


Marla Spivak; Martha Gilliam


Four experiments were conducted to examine factors that influence the expression of hygienic and non-hygienic behaviour in honey bees, Apis mellifera, and to examine the correlation between this behaviour and resistance to chalkbrood, Ascosphaera apis. Colonies were headed by instrumentally inseminated queens selected on the basis of uncapping and removal behaviour expressed by their progeny. In the first experiment, colony strength was altered by transferring hygienic and nonhygienic colonies from 1O-frame field hives to 2-frame observation hives. This treatment significantly reduced the hygienic response of the hygienic bees but did not affect the response of the non-hygienic bees. In the second experiment, hygienic and non-hygienic bees displayed different responses to freeze-killed and live brood which had been partially or entirely uncapped. Both lines of bees recapped both partially and entirely uncapped live brood, but non-hygienic bees also recapped partially uncapped freeze-killed brood, suggesting that non-hygienic bees either could not detect dead or diseased brood or avoided it by sealing it within a comb cell. The third experiment tested whether the degree of hygienic behaviour could be increased by adding hygienic bees to non-hygienic colonies. Adding 20-30% young hygienic bees to nonhygienic colonies did not increase the degree of hygienic behaviour, but adding young nonhygienic bees to hygienic colonies suppressed the behaviour. The results suggest that although hygienic behavior is genetically determined, its expression depends on colony strength and composition of workers within the colony. In the fourth experiment, the hygienic and non-hygienic colonies were fed with pollen patties containing A. apis spores. The weak correspondence that was observed between removal behaviour and physiological resistance to chalkbrood suggested that few colonies are both highly hygienic and physiologically resistant to chalkbrood. Selection against uncapping and removing diseased brood might occur if this behaviour also promotes the spread of disease through the colony. This possibility is discussed in relation to avoidance behaviour of other social insects toward pathogens.


honey bees, Apis mellifera, hygienic behaviour, brood removal,chalkbrood, Ascosphaera apis, disease resistance, genetic factors

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