Honey Bee Sperm Bank Soon To Open At Washington State

Concerns over welfare of important insect leads to decision.

Published on: Jun 20, 2013

Don't laugh.

Yes, Washington State University is preparing to open a sperm bank for U.S. and European honey bee colonies.

Fact is, invasive mites are challenging populations today, say WSU researchers, and sperm is collected to figure out how to use genetic cross breeding to produce a more diverse and resilient honey bee super species to thwart the nation's current crisis with colony collapse.

While it may boggle the mind how they  will collect sperm from the busy buzzers, Susan Cobey, a WSU researcher, says it won't be difficult.

In general terms, if you apply a little pressure to the mature drone's abdomen, it will ejaculate sperm, she  explains, which can  be collected in a syringe equipped with a capillary tube. Right now, researchers are preparing to use liquid nitrogen to create the bank and preserve it.

Honey Bee Sperm Bank Soon To Open At Washington State
Honey Bee Sperm Bank Soon To Open At Washington State

Invasive mites can sap a brood's strength and introduce viruses, warns Steve Sheppard, a WSU entomologist. Pesticides can build up in a brood comb as well, and gradually weaken the insects. While the practice of monoculture provides a lot of food, it offers little of the nutritional variety that bees need, he adds.

Some of these threats may weaken or destroy a hive, but a combination of factors is thought to be the cause of colony collapse, in which the worker bees abruptly disappear, and the entire local population of the insects is doomed.

Concerns over honey bee safety in the U.S. is nothing new. In 1922, shortly after tracheal mites were identified as the likely cause of bee kills in England, the U.S restricted import of live honey bees.

"The ban was fairly effective," observes Cobey. "It prevented tracheal mites from reaching our shores until 1984."

Indeed, the bee situation in the U.S. and WSU's effort to find solution is no laughing matter to an industry threatened.