By Linda Harper, the Honeybee Conservancy
January 21, 2014
In nature, gender differences are common, as in humans. The male honey bee, or drone, is more susceptible than his female counterparts to harbor a fungal intestinal parasites called Nosema cerenae. The disease has rapidly spread throughout the world in recent years and may contribute to the high number of colony deaths in the northern hemisphere. This research points to the delicate nature of the drones, which are important to reproduction and a well distributed parasite.
Scientifically speaking, honey bees are social organisms that demonstrate haploid-diploid chromosome sets. The two castes of female bees; the workers and queens, contain two copies of each chromosome set like humans. However the male drones are haploid meaning they carry only one chromosome set. Meaning that the single haploid males are weaker and cannot fend off mutated genes like the stronger diploid females resulting in more susceptibility to weaker genes. The findings that male honey bees are significantly weaker and have poor body condition make them prime targets for exotic fungal intestinal parasites such as Nosema cerenae. This parasite, originally from Asia, has recently spread to every global region.
Male honey bees are lazy but vital. They do not perform key colony maintenance duties and other important functions like the workers, but they are responsible for succession of the species. They die much sooner than their sisters and have a poorer body condition when infected. This is particularly worrisome as it could result in queens not obtaining sufficient quality and quantity of sperm during mating.
Honey bees provide crucial ecosystem and economic service which is relevant for our food security. Commercial beekeepers provide pollination services to the almond crops in California which hire 4000 hives to pollinate their groves in spring. California supplies 80% of all almonds grown in the world. China has used so many chemicals that they now must pollinate crops manually. Scientists concur by unanimous conclusion that humans are not perfect pollinators. Einstein once stated that if the world loses the honey bee, humans would have four years left before starvation. I’ve heard this statement repeated many times from many sources, and the fact remains, whether he said it or not, it’s more likely true.
If you have questions or responses to this column you can contact us by writing: The Honeybee Conservancy, 5711 CR 109, Mount Gilead, OH 43338.