At the AOB at the end of the Devon Apicultural Research Group (DARG) AGM yesterday Glyn Davies asked us if DARG would like to become associated/involved with a project to investigate virus infection of queens and determine whether they are associated with the recent upsurge in queen failures.
As I recall (I wasn’t taking notes at the time) a Devon Vet, who spends a lot of time looking for Blue Tongue Virus in sheep and so has the equipment and the trained eye, looked at the spermathecae of queens and, in several of them, was able to detect signs of virus in the epithilium (the bag that holds the sperm). As the epithilium has to do its job for up to 5 years it is essential that it is in good condition and it is speculated that virus infection would disrupt it.
How is the queen infected with the virus? Through mating. I heard from Sue Cobey some years ago that viruses can be transmitted through sperm and as the queen will typically mate with 15 drones the chances are that one or more of them will have a virus to pass on.
Why should drones have the virus in the first place? Because Varroa mites prefer drone pupae to feed on and, in doing so, inject the virus, typically Deformed Wing Virus, into them.
Dr Declan Schroder of the Marine Biology Unit at Plymouth University is taking part and, I think, he will be identifying the viruses in samples supplied.
So, during the coming season or two, we shall be on the look out for failing queens for examination, but, as controls for comparison, apparently healthy and prolific queens will need to be sacrificed in the cause of science.
DARG agreed that we would like to be associated with the project and doubtless we will hear more in due course.