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Project Description

We have been studying pathogen levels and the strength of the immune systems of feral honey bees in Pennsylvania since 2016. Our surveys have revealed 3 key aspects of our feral honey bees:

  1. Feral colonies die at similar rates than managed colonies from hobbyist beekeepers.
  2. Often times, feral colonies have significantly higher levels of virus infections (probably because of the high mite pressure).
  3. Some feral colonies have stronger individual and social immunity mechanisms that may help them overcome the high disease pressure they experience.

Our next step for this project is to do an in-depth genomic study of feral honey bee colonies that have strong immune systems to be able to identify the genetic underpinning of the traits that confer advantages to these colonies.  If you know of a feral (unmanaged) colony that has survived in the wild for more than 2 years and you wish to collect a sample, contact us at lopezuribelab@gmail.com. We will send you a feral bee kit with a collection protocol. For a colony to be included in the project, it must have survived a minimum of two winters in a non-managed setting, for example within tree cavities, sheds, or the soffit of a home. We will consider sampling colonies in a managed setting (i.e., a langstroth or top-bar hive), if the colony has a feral origin and has been kept isolated from other managed colonies with non-feral genetics. If you do not wish to collect a sample, simply reporting the location of a feral colony is helpful. To report a feral colony, fill out the following FORM or visit our website: https://lopezuribelab.com/tracking-feral-bee-health/

If you are interested in participating in this study by collecting samples for the genomic analysis, see the detailed explanation of the collection protocol below. You can follow these protocols once you have received the feral bee kit that we will send you.

Collection Package Content

  1. Copy of this collection protocol
  2. Agreement form (which must be signed and returned together with the samples)
  3. Data sheet
  4. Falcon (collection) tubes.

Collection protocol

  1. Report the location of the feral colony via this FORM. After identifying the entrance of the feral bee nest, collect at least 50 foragers from each colony you wish to sample with an entomological net. This will total about 40 ml of bees.
  2. Collect the bees using one of two methods described below.
  3. After collection, fill the falcon tube with 70% isopropyl alcohol, place a data sheet (provided) in the falcon tube (please write this in PENCIL) and keep the tube in the freezer until it is time to deliver it to the López-Uribe lab at Penn State*.

*Isopropyl alcohol cannot be shipped, so the López-Uribe lab will make arrangements with each participant to collect these kits.

NOTE: Sunny warm days (above 55F) are best to collect samples because bees are active. In some cases, a ladder may be needed to reach the entrance of feral bee nests and collect samples. We will only include worker bees in our analysis. During the spring and summer, there are many drones entering and exiting the colony so it is important to check the sex of the bees after they are collected.
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Materials

  • Entomological net or something similar
  • 50ml Falcon tubes
  • 70% isopropyl alcohol (can be purchased from a nearby store)
  • Ladder (if necessary)

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Collection Method-A

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Collection tips

  1. Place the net in front of the nest entrance; adult foragers cannot enter the colony and will accumulate in front of the net. Depending upon how active the colony is, it may take several minutes for a substantial number of bees to accumulate (image 1).
  2. Swing the net continuously to and fro alongside the entrance (image 2); any bees caught in the net will amass and remain in the tip of the net (image 3). Be careful to not hit the net against an adjacent structure as this will damage the bees.
  3. Transfer the bees from the net directly into the falcon tube (image 4), close the lid, and put the tube on ice or in a freezer. Bees may be collected in multiple tubes and combined once they are chilled. 
  4. Once the bees have been immobilized from the cold, fill the falcon tube with 70% isopropyl alcohol, combine bees if there are multiple falcon tubes, place a data sheet inside, and store in a freezer.

*You may have to repeat steps 1-2 multiple times to collect a minimum of 40ml of bees.
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Collection Method-B

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Collection tips

An alternate method to directly transferring the bees from the net into the falcon tube is to first place the bees in isopropyl alcohol before transferring.

  1. Once the bees have accumulated in the tip of the net, place the tip in the bowl of isopropyl alcohol (image 6), the bees may wiggle about but will be unable to fly (image 7 & 8), and collect in a falcon tube (image 9).
  2.  Combine bees if there are multiple falcon tubes, fill the tube with 70% isopropyl alcohol, place a data sheet inside, and store in a freezer.

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For more information or questions please contact us at lopezuribelab@gmail.com

Pictures by Katy Evans & Nick Sloff
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