Causes of Honey Bee Queen Failure in Commercial Beekeeping Operations

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/30/2017
Grant Recipient: University of Minnesota
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Marla Spivak
University of Minnesota

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: general animal production
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Pest Management: prevention
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


    Beekeepers are vital to our agriculture and economy as they provide honey bee colonies for pollination services and honey production. In turn, beekeeper profitability and sustainability is affected by the health of their colonies. The North Central Region (NCR) is the top honey producing area in the U.S., and many commercial colonies are transported from the NCR to other states for crop pollination. Honey bee colonies are dying from a number of causes. Commercial beekeepers report ‘queen failure’ as the top reason for colony mortality through annual surveys conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership. Queen failure will eventually lead to colony death if the bees or beekeeper do not successfully replace her. We proposed to explore potential causes of queen failure in colonies managed by commercial beekeepers in North Dakota and Minnesota. We collected and analyzed 20 pairs of healthy and failing queens to look for factors that contribute to queen failure. We found that sperm count was lower in failing queens and Deformed Wing Virus-B type was higher in failing queens. Results varied among beekeeping operations, indicating that different beekeepers may benefit from different management strategies to lower queen failure.

    Project objectives:

    We collected failing and healthy pairs of queens from commercial beekeeper colonies and had them processed for mating quality, pathogens, and other health measures. We also collected samples to quantify the health of the colony: beeswax to show pesticide exposure, and adult bees to show parasite and pathogen levels in the worker bees. We provided the participating beekeepers with a full report on queens from their own colonies and the overall results. After engaging in a dialogue with these beekeepers, we will work on reaching a broader audience through targeted dialogue, writing articles for the Bee Informed blog and a beekeeper journal (American Bee Journal or Bee Culture), and developing a presentation of the project to be used at beekeeper meetings. This communication will include suggestions for management changes based on the results of this study.

    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.