How Honey Bees Develop their Temperament

Social behavior develops while still at the larval stage

Dec 17, 2015
Bee larvae quickly adapt to the social behavior within their honey bee colony

Some aspects of honey bees’ social behavior are determined in the early larval stage – this is what Professor Gene Robinson and Dr Clare Rittschoff from the University of Illinois discovered with their research colleague Christina Grozinger, a Professor at Penn State University. Whether bees are domesticated or aggressive depends on the hive environment in which they develop as larvae.
The bee researchers already knew from prior studies with adult bees that bees’ behavior is partly dependent on their environment. They adapt themselves to the social behavior of a beehive. To find out when the bees start to adapt to their social surroundings, the researchers have been studying the brood: They took the larvae from the hives shortly before they emerged from their combs, in order to analyze the larvaes’ behavior within a neutral laboratory surrounding. The researchers observed how the young bees reacted to other, foreign bees and whether they were calm or aggressive towards them.
Although the bees did not hatch in their native hive, they demonstrated some of the typical mannerisms that would have been found in the natural surroundings of the native hive. Bees from a more aggressive colony also showed much more aggression in the laboratory than bees from a placid colony. „Even sisters born of the same queen but reared in different colonies differed in aggression levels, demonstrating the potency of this environmental effect," Robinson said.
Beyond this result, the researchers gained further information: Aggressive bees seem to have a more robust immune system. “We challenged these bees with pesticides and found that the aggressive bees were more resistant," Grozinger said. The actual correlation between the social behavior and bee health still has to be determined. The scientists also want to find out how exactly social behavior develops within the hive.

You can find out more in the scientific report in “Nature”journal’s website and read the article “Wimps or Warriors?” at Phys.org.

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