Part VI: Honey Bee Behavior at Multiple Levels of Analysis
- The honey bee = Apis mellifera
- Honeybees can switch between professions and can also adjust when they make these transitions.
- Their ability to do so is related to their sensitivity to certain environmental cues, hormonal changes
that take place within their bodies, the developmental changes that occur within their brains, and to
the genes that reside inside the nuclei of their cells.
- In honey bees, group decisions re based on three behavioral attributes: structuring each deliberation
as an open competition of possibilities, promoting diversity of knowledge and independence of
opinions among the group’s members, and aggregating the opinions in a way that meets time
constraints yet exploits the breadth of knowledge within the group.
From Society to Genes with the Honey Bee: A Combination of Environmental, Genetic, Hormonal,
and Neurobiological Factors Determine a Bee’s Progression Through a Series of Life Stages (327)
- Biological determinism is the notion that genes play a dominant, if not exclusive, role in regulating
behavior; however, genes NEVER act alone.
- Honeybees are useful for studying social behavior because, like humans, they experience behavioral
development. In other words, they pass through different life stages as they age.
Basics of Bee Behavior (327)
- Honey bees always follow three rules:
o They live in colonies with overlapping generations
o They care cooperatively for offspring other than their own
o They maintain a reproductive division of labor
- The females are called workers and basically take care of the colony/
- The males are called drones and can usually be found in the hive they do essentially nothing.
o They specialize in reproduction and once a drone mates, he dies.
- Although a workers life span is just four to seven weeks, it undergoes a series of transitions.
o The first few weeks are spent tending to duties in the hive.
A worker starts out with a couple of days of cell cleaning, literally removing debris from
cells in the hive that are used to raise other bees or to store food.
Next, a worker serves as a nurse, caring for and feeding larval bees.
Towards the end of the hive phase, a worker spends its time processing and storing
food and maintaining the nest, including building new sections of hive.
Some workers also perform a few other tasks along the way, including guarding the
hive or removing corpses.
o The last few weeks are spent foraging for food outside the hive.
This is the most challenging task; a bee must learn how to navigate in the environment
and obtain nectar and pollen from flowers.
Foragers also communicate the location of new food sources by means of the famous
Colony Adjustments (328)
- Bees can accelerate, retard, or even reverse their behavioral development in response to changing
environmental and colony conditions.
o Favorable environmental conditions may cause a surge in worker birth rates, and that could
result in a colony with a reduced percentage of forager. Under theses circumstances, young
bees compress their period of hive work from three weeks to one week and become
“precocious foragers”. o A new colony founded by a swarm (a fragment of an old colony that leaves to establish a new
colony) soon reaches a point at which it contains predominantly older individuals. In this case,
some colony members retard their development and serve as overaged nurses. In these bees,
hypopharyngeal glands that produce food for larvae continue with this function.
- Juvenile hormone – one of the most important hormones influencing insect development – helps to
time the pace of behavioral maturation in honey bees.
o This hormone from the corpora allata, a gland that lies near a honey bee’s brain.
- Proof for the role of JH on behavioral maturation:
o Young bees working in a hive have low levels of this hormone and older foragers have higher
o Young bees given JH become precocious foragers.
o Removal of the corpora allate and subsequent JH treatment does not result in a delay from
developing into a forager.
- To show how the environment can modulate hormone levels precocious foragers were induced by
establishing colonies that consisted of only very young bees. When their blood was tested for levels of
JH, it had as much JH as a three-week-old foragers and much more than the one-week-old nurse.
- It was also found that old nurses