1. General introduction

Recent dramatic losses of honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies in many regions of the world are primarily attributed to introduced and native parasites and diseases, environmental toxins, genetic constraints, beekeeper management issues, and socio-economic factors, acting singly or in combination (Neumann and Carreck, 2010; vanEngelsdorp and Meixner, 2010; Williams et al., 2010). We can study potential effects of many of these factors at the colony-level under field or semi-field (e.g. in tunnel tents) conditions, or at the individual or small group level in a laboratory under relatively controlled settings using honey bees isolated from the outdoors.

Regardless of purpose, maintaining adult honey bees in vitro in the laboratory prior to or during experiments is often required, and in many cases can provide better control of extraneous variables. For example, host-parasite interactions (e.g. Forsgren and Fries, 2010), parasite management products (e.g. Maistrello et al., 2008), toxicology (e.g. Johnson et al., 2009) and physiology (e.g. Alaux et al., 2010) can be studied. Honey bees can also be caged individually for the evaluation of learning and memory using techniques such as the proboscis extension reflex (e.g. Frost et al., 2011, 2012; Giurfa and Sandoz, 2012).

Here we discuss important factors that researchers must consider when maintaining adult worker honey bees under in vitro conditions in the laboratory using cages that restrict movement to the surrounding outdoor environment. We also briefly describe the maintenance of queens and drones. Because an individual’s condition can have profound effects on experimental results, it is vital that adults be maintained under appropriate, controlled conditions that enhance repeatability of experiments. Ultimately, our discussions and recommendations presented here are aimed at facilitating and standardising general care of workers in the laboratory for use in scientific investigations. Additional and more specific information on laboratory methods and settings best suited for the purpose of one’s study can be found in greater detail in other parts of the COLOSS BEEBOOK (Williams et al. 2013), such as in the nosema (Fries et al., 2013), toxicology (Medrzycki et al., 2013), larval rearing (Crailsheim et al., 2013), and behaviour (Scheiner et al., 2012) papers of the COLOSS BEEBOOK.