Improving Honey Bees Through Local Queen Rearing, Selection, and Controlled Mating via Artificial Insemination

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $217,050.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2025
Grant Recipient: Penn State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. Robyn Underwood
Penn State Extension

Information Products


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: livestock breeding

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem or Opportunity and Justification:

    Honey bees are essential to the pollination of agricultural crops in the northeast and beekeeping is an increasing hobby industry. Over 40% of honey bee colonies die each winter in NE SARE states, as honey bees are susceptible to parasites and pathogens as well as multiple environmental influences which threaten the sustainability of apiculture. To compensate for such losses, beekeepers purchase hundreds of thousands of queens and honey bee colonies (packages) from southern and western states annually. This annual mass importation dilutes the genetics of regionally-adapted lines of bees and results in colonies that either lack the resilient traits required or are maladapted for Northeastern climates. This cycle can be stopped or slowed by empowering beekeepers through education and training. 

    A queen honey bee, the sole reproductive female, engages in a high degree of polyandry during natural mating, whereby she mates with dozens of males (drones).   Establishing isolated breeding areas is impossible due to the high density of beekeepers in the region; thus controlled mating is only possible through artificial insemination. 

    Solution and Approach:

    The solution to improving regional genetic lines is to train and educate beekeepers on how to select for and introduce resilient traits through controlled breeding. With this grant we will improve honey bee husbandry by training beekeepers in colony assessment, queen rearing, and artificial insemination. We will accomplish this by providing long-term learning opportunities, including regular Lunch-and-Learn sessions throughout the project duration, online classes and written informational documents which will be freely available, structured educational forums, and in-person workshops. There are many management practices that are inherent to breeding and novel to most beekeepers, which we will cover in our in-person training workshops. A large group will participate in queen rearing education, while a select sub-group of participants will receive training and equipment that will enable them to provide insemination services. Participation will result in improved regional genetic traits over the long-term, increased survivorship of honey bee colonies, and a number of self-supported queen producers with enhanced skills for genetic selection, queen production and sales. 

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Queen rearing will be practiced by 65 beekeepers throughout the Northeast, resulting in the production of 100 queens per beekeeper annually (approximately 20,000 queens over 3 years). Thirteen beekeepers will practice artificial insemination of queens. By the end of the project, there will be 5-10 new queen producers in each state providing open-mated queens for sale, plus 1-2 artificial insemination service providers producing artificially-inseminated breeder queens. Queen production and insemination services will provide savings and increased profits to the beekeepers that learn the necessary skills. 

    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.