Previously we reported that there are subfamily differences in drone production in queenless honey bee colonies, but these biases are not always explained by subfamily differences in oviposition behavior. Here we determine whether these puzzling results are best explained by either inadequate sampling of the laying worker population or reproductive conflict among workers resulting in differential treatment of eggs and larvae. Using colonies composed of workers from electrophoretically distinct subfamilies, we collected samples of adult bees engaged in the following behavior: "true" egg laying, "false" egg laying, indeterminate egg laying, egg cannibalism, or nursing (contact with larvae). We also collected samples of drone brood at four different ages: 0 to 2.5-h-old eggs, 0 to 24-h-old eggs, 3 to 8-day-old larvae, and 9 to 14-day-old larvae and pupae. Allozyme analyses revealed significant subfamily differences in the likelihood of exhibiting egg laying, egg cannibalism, and nursing behavior, as well as significant subfamily differences in drone production. There were no subfamily differences among the different types of laying workers collected from each colony, suggesting that discrepancies between subfamily biases in egg-laying behavior and drone production are not due to inadequate sampling of the laying worker population. Subfamily biases in drone brood production within a colony changed significantly with brood age. Laying workers had significantly more developed ovaries than either egg cannibals or nurses, establishing a physiological correlate for the observed behavioral genetic differences. These results suggest there is reproductive conflict among subfamilies and individuals within queenless colonies of honey bees. The implications of these results for the evolution of reproductive conflict, in both queenright and queenless contexts, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-107
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1994


  • Allozymes
  • Apis mellifera
  • Drone production
  • Genetics
  • Reproductive conflict

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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