Molecular, physiological and behavioral responses of honey bee (Apis mellifera) drones to infection with microsporidian parasites

Holly L. Holt, Gabriel Villar, Weiyi Cheng, Jun Song, Christina M. Grozinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Susceptibility to pathogens and parasites often varies between sexes due to differences in life history traits and selective pressures. Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae are damaging intestinal pathogens of European honey bees (Apis mellifera). Nosema pathology has primarily been characterized in female workers where infection is energetically costly and accelerates worker behavioral maturation. Few studies, however, have examined infection costs in male honey bees (drones) to determine if Nosema similarly affects male energetic status and sexual maturation. We infected newly emerged adult drones with Nosema spores and conducted a series of molecular, physiological, and behavioral assays to characterize Nosema etiology in drones. We found that infected drones starved faster than controls and exhibited altered patterns of flight activity in the field, consistent with energetic distress or altered rates of sexual maturation. Moreover, expression of candidate genes with metabolic and/or hormonal functions, including members of the insulin signaling pathway, differed by infection status. Of note, while drone molecular responses generally tracked predictions based on worker studies, several aspects of infected drone flight behavior contrasted with previous observations of infected workers. While Nosema infection clearly imposed energetic costs in males, infection had no impact on drone sperm numbers and had only limited effects on antennal responsiveness to a major queen sex pheromone component (9-ODA). We compare Nosema pathology in drones with previous studies describing symptoms in workers and discuss ramifications for drone and colony fitness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14-24
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of invertebrate pathology
StatePublished - Jun 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Molecular, physiological and behavioral responses of honey bee (Apis mellifera) drones to infection with microsporidian parasites'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this