Honey bees may need their own PSAs about sexually transmitted diseases.
Bees, like many animals, are polyandrous, meaning females partner with multiple mates. Queens might mate with as many as 100 males in just a few hours, allowing the species to produce hardier, more genetically diverse offspring. But, it seems, it also leaves them vulnerable to STDs, according to a 2015 study in Nature.
Scientists artificially inseminated 17 honey bee queens with bee semen from colonies infected with two major bee parasites, Nosema apis and N. ceranae. Five of the queens later tested positive for the parasites. Of 13 bees inseminated directly with parasite spores, the spores replicated and established an infection in six of them. On the bright side, none of the 400 eggs laid by Nosema-positive insects carried the infection, so the disease wasn't passed on from mother to offspring.
How did the researchers collect the bee semen, you might ask? “The endophallus was fully everted by applying pressure to the drone thorax and semen released by squeezing the abdomen laterally from the head towards the abdomen,” the researchers wrote. So basically, they squeezed the bees until it came out. Pity the poor research assistant who had to collect that sample.
This is the first quantitative evidence of sexually transmitted diseases in social insect populations, though initial studies had suggested that deformed wing virus could be transmitted venereally between honey bees. Disease transmission is particularly important to understand in bees, since many bee populations are in decline, threatening agricultural production.