If a honeybee (Apis mellifera) colony loses its queen, worker bees develop their ovaries and produce male offspring [1]. Kin selection theory predicts that the degree of altruism in queenless colonies should be reduced because the relatedness of workers to a hivemate's offspring is less in queenless colonies than it is to the daughters of the queen in queenright colonies [2-4]. To explore this hypothesis, we examined the behavior and physiology of queenless egg-laying workers. Queenless bees engaged in both personal reproduction and the social foraging and defense tasks that benefited their colony. Laying workers also had larger brood-food-producing and wax glands, showing metabolic investments in both colony maintenance and personal reproduction. Whereas in queenright colonies there is a very clear age-based pattern of division of labor between workers, in queenless colonies the degree of individual specialization was much reduced. Queenless colonies functioned as a collective of reproductive and behaviorally generalist bees that cooperatively maintained and defended their nest. This social structure is similar to that observed in a number of primitively social bee species [5]. Laying workers therefore show a mix of selfish personal reproduction and altruistic cooperative behavior, and the queenless state reveals previously unrecognized plasticity in honeybee social organization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1574-1578
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 19 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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