Winter is coming: Improving overwintering survival of honey bee colonies in Pennsylvania

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2015: $14,940.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Grant Recipient: Penn State
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:

Annual Reports


  • Animal Products: honey


  • Animal Production: apiculture
  • Education and Training: decision support system

    Proposal abstract:

    Many of our nutritionally and economically valuable crops depend on managed pollinators, such as honey bees. However, an average of 30% of the colonies is lost every winter. Honey bee colonies produce "winter bees" in the fall: winter bees exhibit substantially increased longevity and form a thermoregulating cluster to maintain heat. Thus, the production of winter bees during the fall is crucial for the colony survival. However, the factors triggering winter bee production are largely unknown, and thus beekeepers have no control over the timing and quantity of winter bees produced. We have developed a model describing how environmental and social cues (pheromones) may interact to drive winter bee production. I will test this model to determine if beekeeper-applied, commercially available pheromones can modulate the production of winter bees and improve colony overwintering survival. I will 1) determine the effect of fall applications of two honey bee pheromones (forager and brood pheromone) on the timing of winter bee production and the size of the winter bee population, 2) determine the effect of pheromone treatment on colony health and overwintering survival, 3) using the results from objectives 1 and 2, develop a pheromone treatment program to improve overwintering success, and partner with beekeepers to test this treatment program in real life conditions, and 4) disseminate the information from objectives 1, 2, and 3 to beekeepers and commercial bee breeders. This project should reduce overwintering losses of honey bee colonies, improve sustainability in beekeeping operations, and reduce the costs of pollination services.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1. Test the effects of two honey bee pheromones, forager pheromone and brood pheromone, on timing of winter bee production in fall and size of overwintering population in honey bee colonies.

    Objective 2. Determine the effect of different pheromonal treatments in fall on colony health (colony weight, colony size, storage levels, virus and parasite loads) and overwintering survival.

    Objective 3. Using the results from Objectives 1 and 2, develop a pheromone treatment program to improve overwintering success in honey bees, and partner with beekeepers to test this treatment program in real life conditions.

    Objective 4. Disseminate the results from Objectives 1 and 2, and the treatment program developed in Objective 3 to beekeepers and commercial bee breeders.

    Materials and personnel: Package bees and queens (Objectives 1 and 2), pheromones and material related to their application (Objective 1), undergraduate researcher to assist with measurements in fall, winter, and spring (Objectives 1 and 2), cost related to travelling to and from the apiaries (Objectives 1 and 2) will be addressed using the proposed budget.

    The Grozinger lab will provide all necessary beekeeping equipment, apiary locations, and an MSc-level field technician to help with maintaining the colonies through the course of experiments.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.