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This micrograph shows a bee
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In the World of Bees, It Pays to Be Tidy
Peabody December 6, 2004
For honey bees, good hygiene can mean the difference between life and
Agricultural Research Service
scientists have discovered that honey bees genetically resistant to minute,
parasitic mites are almost obsessive when it comes to grooming themselves.
These busy bees use their legs to brush off tracheal mites that could otherwise
invade their airways and choke them.
Villa at the agencys
Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit at Baton Rouge, La.,
wanted to see how this grooming behavior varies from bee to bee--specifically,
how resistant bees hygiene habits differ from those of susceptible bees.
To gauge this, Danka and Villa placed tracheal mites directly onto
individual bees from each of the two groups. Because the mites are so tiny, the
scientists rigged a miniature brush to transfer them: an eyelash mounted to a
small, three-inch stick.
Grooming is an important line of defense for honey bees since tracheal
mites are most vulnerable when theyre crawling around on the insect,
outside of its airways.
After transferring the mites, the researchers watched to see how long
it took for the bees to brush them off.
Their findings? Resistant bees groomed more than susceptible bees.
They also groomed more often on whichever side of their bodies the mites were
placed, suggesting that resistant bees could simply be more sensitive to the
But when counting the number of mites actually knocked off by the bees
within just a few minutes, the researchers found that the resistant bees
persistent grooming didnt always lead to a significant number of mites
The scientists emphasize that their study was just a brief look into
young bees grooming habits. In a real colony, honey bees are continuously
challenged by tracheal mites throughout their lives, so more aggressive
grooming would seem to pay off over time.
about this research in the December issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is theU.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.