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A review of methods used in some European countries for assessing the quality of honey bee queens through their physical characters and the performance of their colonies

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Journal of Apicultural Research

Vol. 53 (3) pp. 337-363




July 2014

Article Title

A review of methods used in some European countries for assessing the quality of honey bee queens through their physical characters and the performance of their colonies


Fani Hatjina, Malgorzata Bieńkowska, Leonidas Charistos, Robert Chlebo, Cecilia Costa, Marica M Dražić, Janja Filipi, Aleš Gregorc, Evgeniya N Ivanova, Nikola Kezić, Jan Kopernicky, Per Kryger, Marco Lodesani, Vesna Lokar, Mica Mladenovic, Beata Panasiuk, Plamen P Petrov, Slađan Rašić, Maja I Smodis Skerl, Flemming Vejsnæs and Jerzy Wilde


The term “quality” in relation to queens and drones refers to certain quantitative physical and / or behavioural characters. It is generally believed that a high quality queen should have the following physical characteristics: high live weight; high number of ovarioles; large size of spermatheca; high number of spermatozoa in spermatheca; and be free from diseases and pests. It is, however, also known that the performance of a honey bee colony is the result of its queen’s function as well as of that of the drones that mated with her. These two approaches are often considered together and give a general picture of the queen production technique and selection. Here we describe the most common and well known anatomical, physiological, behavioural and performance characters related to the queens, as measured in different European countries: the live weight of the virgin queen (Bulgaria); the live weight of the laying queen (Bulgaria, Italy); the diameter and volume of spermatheca (Bulgaria, Greece, Slovenia); the number of ovarioles (Greece, Italy, Slovenia); the weight of ovaries (Slovenia); the number of spermatozoa in spermatheca (Italy, Poland, Slovenia); the brood pattern (Bulgaria, Greece); the egg laying ability / fecundity (Bulgaria); the brood production (Croatia, Serbia); the colony population development (Croatia, Serbia, Slovakia); the honey production (Croatia, Denmark, Serbia, Slovakia); the hygienic behaviour (Croatia, Denmark, Serbia, Slovakia); the defence behaviour (Croatia); the calmness / sitting on the comb (Croatia, Denmark); and swarming (Croatia, Denmark). The data presented fit well with the findings of the same characters in the literature, and in general they support the argument for the term “quality characters”. Especially for the weight of the queen, the number of ovarioles, the volume of the spermatheca and the number of spermatozoa, data per country proved its own accuracy by repetition through the years. We also report that when instrumentally inseminated queens are kept under mass production conditions (in small cages in queen banks and with low number of attendants) they can transfer the semen to their spermatheca and clear their oviducts more efficiently when they have been inseminated with small amounts of semen in two or three sequences (but not four), compared to those inseminated with the same amount of semen at once (Poland). Furthermore, we had an inside view of the sanitary conditions of the colony: a. through the health status of the queen (nosema plus virus analysis) (Slovenia); and b. evaluating the nosema load of worker bees (Denmark) and of the queens (Greece). This is the first step to summarize this type of diverse data for such an important issue. The knowledge acquired can be used to fill in the existing gaps in the breeding or queen evaluation systems of each country in order to facilitate standardization of methodology for comparable results.


honey bee, queen quality, breeding, spermatheca, ovary, ovariole, spermatozoa, performance, population, brood, honey production, swarming, defence, calmness, disease prevalence

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