Honey bee life spans are half what they were in the 1970s

Laboratory study might provide new explanation for colony collapses

Honey bee landing on a watermelon flower
Stephen Ausmus

The longevity of honey bees has fallen by 50% over the past 5 decades, New Scientist reports. When a hive doesn’t have enough worker bees, it’s less likely to survive over the winter. For this reason, commercial beekeepers now typically lose 30% to 40% of their colonies each year—significantly more than in previous decades. Shorter life span could be a reason, according to a study published this week in Scientific Reports. For the study, researchers took bee pupae from a colony, reared them in an incubator, and then kept the adult bees in custom cages. The bees lived an average of 18 days; that’s versus 34 days, according to publications from the 1970s. Shorter lives mean less time collecting pollen and nectar, and thus smaller reserves of honey to help the bees survive to the next spring. The researchers speculate that breeders may have accidentally shortened the potential life span while they were improving disease resistance, because shorter lived bees might be less likely to spread disease, New Scientist reports.

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