Perspectives on hygienic behavior in Apis mellifera and other social insects

Marla Spivak, Robert G. Danka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Hygienic behavior in honey bees, Apis mellifera, has been studied for over 80 years with the aim of understanding mechanisms of pathogen and parasite resistance and colony health. This review emphasizes the underlying behavioral mechanisms of hygienic behavior in honey bees and when known, in other social insects. We explore the relationship between honey bee hygienic behavior toward diseased brood and Varroa-parasitized brood (Varroa-sensitive hygiene, VSH); the timing of hygienic removal of diseased, Varroa-infested, and virus-infected brood relative to risk of transmission that can affect colony fitness; and the methods, utility, and odorants associated with different assays used to select colonies for resistance to diseases and Varroa. We also provide avenues for future research that would benefit honey bee health and survivorship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
M. Spivak acknowledges previous funding from the National Science Foundation for studies on hygienic behavior (NSF IBN 9307026, 9722416, and 031991).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).


  • Varroa-sensitive hygiene
  • ants
  • chemical odorants
  • social immunity
  • termites


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