Is the brood pattern within a honey bee colony a reliable indicator of queen quality?

Kathleen V. Lee, Michael Goblirsch, Erin McDermott, David R. Tarpy, Marla Spivak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Failure of the queen is often identified as a leading cause of honey bee colony mortality. However, the factors that can contribute to “queen failure” are poorly defined and often misunderstood. We studied one specific sign attributed to queen failure: poor brood pattern. In 2016 and 2017, we identified pairs of colonies with “good” and “poor” brood patterns in commercial beekeeping operations and used standard metrics to assess queen and colony health. We found no queen quality measures reliably associated with poor-brood colonies. In the second year (2017), we exchanged queens between colony pairs (n = 21): a queen from a poor-brood colony was introduced into a good-brood colony and vice versa. We observed that brood patterns of queens originally from poor-brood colonies significantly improved after placement into a good-brood colony after 21 days, suggesting factors other than the queen contributed to brood pattern. Our study challenges the notion that brood pattern alone is sufficient to judge queen quality. Our results emphasize the challenges in determining the root source for problems related to the queen when assessing honey bee colony health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, grant number 2016-07962; and a North Central SARE Partnership Grant, grant number ONC16-019.Acknowledgments: We would like to thank Dennis vanEngelsdorp for his suggestions to improve the manuscript, Megan Mahoney for help in collecting queens, Deniz Chen for processing queen samples, the anonymous reviewers for their suggestions that strengthened the manuscript, and the beekeepers for their participation, support, and ideas.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Apis mellifera
  • Beekeeping
  • Brood pattern
  • Colony health
  • Parasites and pathogens
  • Pesticides
  • Queen
  • Queen quality


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