The lifespan of honey bees is half as short as it was 50 years ago

Photo illustration: Unsplash (Kris Mikael Krister)

The lifespan of individual bees kept in laboratory conditions is 50 percent shorter than it was in the 1970s, according to a new study published on the website of the University of Maryland.

To uncover the reason for the losses, scientists focused on environmental stressors, diseases, parasites, as well as pesticide exposure and diet.

However, this trend was also noted during the last decade by American beekeepers, who reported high colony losses and reduced honey production.

Taking into account the trend recorded by American beekeepers, this study showed for the first time that the shorter lifespan of honey bees is not only caused by environmental stressors, but that there is a possibility that it is another factor.

The environmental factor is excluded, relying on the fact that American beekeepers also recorded large losses of colonies, which indicate a shorter life span of bees. The fact that bees kept in laboratory conditions are isolated from the colony just before they become adults, led to the conclusion that the cause of the shortened life span occurs before the moment they become adults and which introduced the idea that it is a matter of a genetic component.

Photo-illustration: Pixabay (Myriams-Fotos)

What is good, if the hypothesis is correct, is the possibility to isolate these genetic factors, which should solve the problem.

The nutrition factor was excluded after bees kept in isolated conditions were fed in a way to mimic natural conditions, but the life span of these bees was again half that of those in isolated conditions on which similar experiments were conducted in the 1970s.

Finally, the scientists hypothesized that their lab-kept bees might experience some sort of low-level viral contamination or pesticide exposure during the larval stage, when they lay in the hive and are fed by worker bees. However, the bees showed no obvious symptoms of that exposure.

Although the laboratory environment is very different from the colony, earlier records of bees kept under laboratory conditions indicate similar life spans to colony bees. Most scientists agree on the assumption that isolated factors that reduce lifespan in one environment will also reduce lifespan in another.

Based on the analysis of all factors, the scientists made the assumption that most likely genetics influence the trends in the beekeeping industry.

However, the scientists will further examine the hypothesis by comparing trends in shoulder life expectancy in other countries as well.

In the 1970s, the average lifespan of bees was 34.3 days, while today it is 17.7 days.

Around 20,000 species of bees have been recorded in the world so far, of which only six to eleven species produce and store honey.

Katarina Vuinac

Source: Energetski Portal by

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