Tracking Feral Bee Health

Feral honey bee in a tree cavity

Beekeepers are facing serious challenges that threaten their economic viability. One of the major problems honey bees are dealing with is the large cocktail of parasites and pathogens that attack them. Currently, most managed honey bee colonies cannot survive the winter without disease treatment, and even with intensive management regime, beekeepers nationwide are losing on average 40% of their colonies, with Pennsylvania being among the worst. On the contrary, some feral (unmanaged) bee populations have been reported as stable through time despite the lack of beekeeper assistance, suggesting that these colonies may have adapted to be resilient to these multiple disease stressors. In 2016 we began a project that aims to compare the levels of immune gene expression and loads of viral pathogens to test whether feral honey bees have stronger immune systems than managed honey bees. Our first goal is to identify the location of feral honey bee colonies across Pennsylvania. About 50 foraging bees will be collected at each site, but the colony will remain UNHARMED. By identifying feral colonies with stronger immune systems, we are hoping to identify genetic stocks of locally adapted bees that could be used for breeding programs. If you are aware of an unmanaged or feral honey bee colony, please share with us information regarding its location via our Tracking Feral Bee Health FORM (FORM is available below) or via email at the López-Uribe Lab (lopezuribelab@gmail.com). All information that you share with us is confidential.

This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Animal Health Appropriations under Project #PEN04620 and Accession #1011873.

Here is the general protocol we will use to collect samples from feral and managed colonies this summer. You DO NOT need to collect samples to participate. Please provide us with the feral and manage bee locations, and our team will contact you to do the collections.   

  1. Contact the López-Uribe lab with information and a location of the feral colony
  2. Take GPS coordinates of the location of the feral colony. If you have a smartphone, download the app ‘GPS data’ and record the latitude, longitude coordinates. It is also helpful to have information about the address, town and zip code of the closest location that can be used to access the feral colony. You can also obtain GPS coordinates via Google Map App on your smartphone.
  3. The colony must have survived at least one winter to consider it ‘feral’. 
  4. In addition, we would need to sample bees from a managed colony somewhere in the vicinity of the feral colony. Please let us know if you have information about a managed colony that we would be able to sample. 
  5. We will sample the same colonies, the feral colony and one managed colony, twice per season: spring (April/May) and early fall (October). We will collect 50 adult bees from the entrance of the colony each time we visit. The colony will remain unharmed.