The study of Indiana University researcher Irene L.G. Newton and collaborators tracked the development of the queen’s gut bacteria throughout the commercial rearing process: from the larval stage to their emergence as adults and their introduction to new colonies – a common practice in commercial beekeeping.
Their most important finding: The larval queens' bacteria resembled those found in worker larvae. But by the time the queens mature, they have developed a microbial signature distinct from the rest of the colony. The authors suggest that the queen’s royal isolation from the dirt and grime of everyday life in the colony may account for this difference in her microbiome.
In a healthy colony, worker bees typically acquire their gut bacteria through interaction with microbes inside the hive, including fecal matter from adult bees. But in queen bees the most likely route of microbiome transmission is the "royal jelly" – the protein-rich food source produced by worker bees which is responsible for the development of queen bees during the larval stage. Unlike other bees, queens continue to feast on royal jelly through maturity, eschewing the honey and "bee bread" consumed by workers.
Irene L.G. Newton sums up what this discovery means for modern beekeepers: "Because the queen microbiome does not reflect the workers within a specific colony, the physical movement of queens from one colony environment to another does not seem to have any major effects on either the queen gut or worker gut communities," she said. "The research provides no evidence that beekeepers who regularly replace their queens from outside genetic sources harm their colonies by disrupting the gut microfauna of a particular colony. In many ways, these conclusions are very reassuring for the commercial-production apiculture industry."
The study "Characterization of the honey bee microbiome throughout the queen-rearing process" was first published on Newswise, a platform that gives journalists access to the latest news and provides a platform for universities, institutions, and journalists to spread breaking news to their audience.