The Young Turks of Entomology

The North Carolina State Beekeepers Association (NCSBA) celebrated its 100 anniversary in 2017 and at 102 years old, is one of the oldest apiculture associations in America. It also has the greatest number of active members —4500 from seventy-five local clubs, more than any other state apiculture group. Due to the NCSBA’s popularity and mission of promoting beekeepers and NC honey, the twice a year conference attracts well-known biologists and entomologists from throughout the world. The recent 2019 spring conference was no different.

Katie Lee, Ph.D. and Allison McAfee, Ph.D. were the two guest standouts at this spring conference. Dr. Lee received her Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of Minnesota Bee Lab. Her advisor was the world renown entomologist and Distinguished Mcknight University Prof Marla Spivak. Dr. McAfee, a graduate of the University of British Columbia, recently began her postdoctoral studies under another legendary entomologist, Professor David Tarpy at the NCSU Bee lab.

Dr. Lee presented on “Honey Bee Health Metrics” and “Is The Brood Pattern within a Honey Bee Colony a Reliable Indicator of Queen Quality.” The latter topic completely debunked a practice beekeepers have been applying since the advent of commercial beekeeping—killing and replacing what was thought to be underperforming queens based on their poor egg laying pattern. Essentially, Dr. Lee proved that brood pattern is not a reliable indicator of queen performance. In other words, I, along with many other “beeks” have been doing it all wrong. Our interpretation of brood patterns has nothing to do with her Royal Highness. It has everything to do with our ignorance.

One may think that a lecture on “Temperature Stress: The Silent Sperm Killer Undermining the Quality of Our Queens” would be thoroughly boring. Not to a beekeeper.  Dr. Lee gave a riveting presentation, complete with spreadsheets and graphs illustrating that temperature spikes to queens will reduce sperm viability upwards of 60%. One may think this is somewhat obtuse, but there is one common variable that would cause heat stress among queens: replacement queens are shipped. It’s impossible for USPS, FedEx, and UPS to guarantee summer temps won’t spike above 104° during transport. After being exposed to this temperature for just two hours, the queens had a 60% loss of viable sperm. Take away? Graft your own queens or buy local queens.

Watching their animated and energy filled presentations, it’s obvious both Dr’s Lee and McAfee are passionate about their work. Vibrant researchers like these two young women bring us closer to understanding the ancient workings of the honeybee and of colony health. It was truly a joy listening to them. Their novel research is instrumental to all beekeepers who deeply care about their charges.

(The featured photos are of Katie Lee, Ph.D., and  Allison McAfee, Ph.D.)


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