What’s The Buzz Around Hydrogen Peroxide? An analysis of honey bee preference and mortality to differing hydrogen peroxide concentrations

Carlos Martinez-Mejia from New York University worked with Dr. Lewis Bartlett.

Abstract Hydrogen peroxide has proven antimicrobial benefits and is created in honey when honeybees add glucose oxidase. This behavior makes honey bees another self-medicating animal and gives honey the longevity and antiseptic properties that we see. Hydrogen peroxide has been tested for toxicity in honeybees as well as parasites found in colonies. Honeybees have previously been seen to withstand higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide than their insect counterparts. However, the exact toxicological limit of hydrogen peroxide that honeybees can withstand has not been officially established. Likewise, understanding if honeybees can identify these different concentrations and if this changes their preferences is still under investigation. Here we show that honeybees avoided hydrogen peroxide solutions in both sucrose and glucose when compared to the control sugar solution- differences in concentration and sugar were found to be significant in preference behavior. In addition, as hydrogen peroxide concentration increases- as does the proportional death of honey bees. At 4% H2O2 less than 40% of honey bees died. Knowing that hydrogen peroxide production for honey bees is a very metabolically taxing process- the hypothesis was that honey bees would rather have higher concentrations than go through the tiring process themselves. The results instead showed that on average honey bees avoided hydrogen peroxide when compared to the control sugar solution. Similarly, although honey bees have a higher tolerance toward hydrogen peroxide than other insects- 10% H2O2 was believed to be fully lethal but in some cases as many as 30% of honey bees survived at this dose. These results shed light on the relationship that honey bees have with hydrogen peroxide both regarding possible preference and toxicity threshold. We anticipate these trials to be a starting point for future pollinator health and pest control studies. Understanding the robustness of honey bees to such high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide opens the door for pesticide research that can effectively terminate pests while leaving the mass majority of honey bees unscathed.