2.2.6. Assessment of honey bee queen and drone behaviour

Studying honey bee mating behaviour under local environmental conditions and evaluating the reliability of a mating station are complex tasks and should be organized under specifically controlled circumstances.

  • Transparent front extensions and queen excluders can be applied to the mating boxes to accurately observe queen activity (Koeniger and Koeniger, 2007). Thus, the time and duration of each flight attempt as well as the presence of any mating sign on the queen can easily be observed. An experienced person is able to simultaneously follow the queen flight activity of up to 10 mating boxes.
  • The starting time of oviposition, the sex of the larvae and the rate of brood mortality can be used as indicators of successful mating.
  • The spermathecae of mated queens can be dissected (see the BEEBOOK paper on anatomy and dissection of the honey bee (Carreck et al., 2013)); to estimate the number of stored spermatozoa see the BEEBOOK paper on miscellaneous research methods (Human et al., 2013).
  • For the observation of drone flight activity, the colonies should be equipped with transparent front extensions and entrance reducers to individually follow and count the number of leaving and returning drones in certain intervals as well as to catch and mark individual drones for further observations.
  • Alternatively RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) technology can be used to individually mark queens and drones and automatically register the exact time of each entrance passage (http://www.microsensys.de).
  • Individual drones can be marked with coloured or numbered plates in order to identify them when they return to their colonies or if they are caught again in the field.
  • Microsatellite analysis and other molecular methods can be used to identify the individual origin of drones or its semen from certain colonies (see the BEEBOOK papers on molecular techniques (Evans et al., 2013), and miscellaneous research methods (Human et al., 2013). This is a very powerful technique to estimate the number of matings per queen, the realized mating distance of queens and drones, the quantitative contribution of certain drones to the female offspring of a queen etc.