Fungi in the genus Ascosphaera (Ascomycota: Eurotiomycetes: Ascosphaerales) cause chalkbrood disease in larvae of bees. Here, we report the first-ever detection of the fungus in adult bumble bees that were raised in captivity for studies on colony development. Wild queens of Bombus griseocollis, B. nevadensis and B. vosnesenskii were collected and maintained for establishment of nests. Queens that died during rearing or that did not lay eggs within one month of capture were dissected, and tissues were examined microscopically for the presence of pathogens. Filamentous fungi that were detected were plated on artificial media containing broad spectrum antibiotics for isolation and identification. Based on morphological characters, the fungus was identified as Ascosphaera apis (Maasen ex Claussen) Olive and Spiltoir, a species that has been reported earlier only from larvae of the European honey bee, Apis mellifera, the Asian honey bee, Apis cerana, and the carpenter bee Xylocopa californica arizonensis. The identity of the fungus was confirmed using molecular markers and phylogenetic analysis. Ascosphaera apis was detected in queens of all three bumble bee species examined. Of 150 queens dissected, 12 (8%) contained vegetative and reproductive stages of the fungus. Both fungal stages were also detected in two workers collected from colonies with Ascosphaera -infected B. nevadensis queens. In this study, wild bees could have been infected prior to capture for rearing, or, the A. apis infection could have originated via contaminated European honey bee pollen fed to the bumble bees in captivity. Thus, the discovery of A. apis in adult bumble bees in the current study has important implications for commercial production of bumble bee colonies and highlights potential risks to native bees via pathogen spillover from infected bees and infected pollen.
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© 2015 Maxfield-Taylor et al.