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Why Is A Propolis Envelope So Important?

Did you know that propolis is a mixture of resins and other oils and fats collected from trees? While propolis has many benefits, the most important function of the propolis envelope may be to modulate costly immune system activity, freeing up energy for the bees to perform more critical tasks such as nursing, building comb, and foraging! Propolis also helps preserve the structural integrity of a bee hive and protects against wood decay, fungus, and water.

Chalkbrood Honey Bee Defense.jpg

Chalk Brood

Honeybees are highly social insects, which increases the risk of pathogen transmission within the colony. Honeybees, though, have a high number of defense mechanisms to help prevent the spread of disease. Gathering propolis and building a propolis envelope is a critical part of the honeybees' system of defense mechanisms that keeps a colony healthy. Studies have shown that propolis reduces chalk brood infection. In fact, honey bees actually increase propolis foraging activity when the colony is challenged with chalkbrood. 

Image by Annie Spratt

Immune Gene Expression

Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are the first line of defense against pathogens. Among a honeybee's AMPs, abaecin is a major player. Studies have shown that the more propolis rich a colony is, the less variation and reduced a bee's relative abaecin expression is.

What does that mean? It means a propolis rich colony leads to a more stable immune system that runs at a lower level, which allows it to spike more effectively when challenged by a pathogen. Additionally, a stable and healthy immune system uses less energy, allowing more energy to be devoted to critical tasks, such as rearing brood and gathering resources like nectar, pollen, and propolis!


Stabilizing Effects on Microbiome

The role of a healthy microbiome in maintaining health and preventing diseases is largely established. Within a honeybee's microbiome, bartonella sp. is found within its gut. A propolis envelope has been shown to have stabilizing effects on relative bartonella sp. 

What does that mean? It means a honey bee's microbiome is stabilized in the presence of propolis, strengthening its ability to maintain the bee's individual health, and in turn the health of the colony. 



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