Low Fertility

Seems that bees are in trouble on more than one front. If mites don’t get them, infertility will.

This past year I’ve had an alarmingly low rate of healthy mated queens. I’ve made some mis-steps and a few decisions to split a hive a bit prematurely, but either way, the virgin queens I put into the hives came back with poor to no ability to lay eggs after mating (or not) with drones. They looked perfectly beautiful and healthy. But they were laying nothing at all or only drones. A hive will quickly die without it’s worker girl bee force.


Low fertility in the human world is not so different from other species. I’ve read that when the survival of species are threatened, certain evolutionary mechanisms will kick in to effectively curtail reproduction. God knows, humans and all creatures are faced with dire threats to life these days—generations to come are facing massive problems which would cause fertility problems in any being. External factors that influence internal include habitat that is compromised by threats of increasing climate unpredictability, stress, polluted environments leading to poor health, immune problems, genetic defects and inability to create a healthy fetus.

Bees will die due to “a thousand small cuts”— coined by Mark Winston, in Bee Time, Rather than one pinpointed catastrophe, it’s the multiple and cascading issues which are dooming bees to extinction. The domino effect. Could it be happening with humans also?

I began to research what other beekeepers are saying about sperm counts and mated queens and fertility in the bee world. What do the old codgers say? What do the veteran beekeepers know? This blog post— from Roger Patterson, who keeps bees in the UK— hit home:

I started keeping bees in 1963 and at one time had 130 colonies, and have always raised my own queens on a regular basis. For a number of reasons I had a spell where I had no bees myself for about 15 years until restarting in 2002, but retained interest in my local Association, and continued to attend meetings. At one stage I could expect a success rate of getting queens mated from a sealed cell well in excess of 90%, but since returning to active beekeeping that success rate has dropped alarmingly, in my own experience to 50% or less.

When restarting I obtained 5 colonies from various sources and rigorously culled the poorer queens. In doing this I realised there was a problem in achieving the level of successful matings I had previously enjoyed.

In the Dec 2004 issue of BBKA News I wrote an article on my experiences, and asked if the problems were related to varroa[mite]. I received several replies and these fell largely into two groups, those who had kept bees for around 15 years or more, and agreed with me that there was a problem, and those with less experience who indicated that my experiences were “normal”, which is understandable if that is all they had known. One person who regularly raised a large number of queens appeared to have a success rate as low as 15%.

I received references to research work that had been done abroad, and there were indications from what I considered to be reliable sources that varroa and it’s treatment may be a contributory factor, and in a variety of ways.

Drones that were parasitised by varroa as larvae may have reduced sperm and lower viability if, indeed, they managed to survive to sexual maturity, and it appears that some treatments may accumulate in beeswax, and possibly cause the following problems:-

  • Reduced sperm count in drones.
  • Reduced queen mating success.
  • Reduced queen weight.
  • High queen mortality.
  • Physical abnormalities in queens.

So, varroa mites. The culprit in almost every aspect of collapsing colonies these days. These creepy, draconian specks of a beast are destroying bees. And we as beekeepers stand by almost helpless, watching the demise of our bee colonies.


I will be treating my bees this year. Sometimes it seems the treatment is more deadly than the disease, kind of like chemo for cancer.

But it must be done.

God save the queen.

God save us all.


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