Artificially-reared honey bee larvae express a normal behavioural repertoire as adults

Ashley Mortensen *1, James Ellis 2


1 Plant & Food Research
2 University of Florida

Cooperative behaviours observed in social insects are often regarded as simple instinctual responses to positive and negative feedback. However, learning and cognition have been demonstrated in some behaviours within eusocial colonies. We have utilized the dramatic differences in environment between natural and artificial rearing systems of honey bee, Apis mellifera L., larvae to explore the extent to which developmental environment may affect adult honey bee behaviour. During natural development in a hive, honey bee larvae interact extensively with nurse bees, whereas social interactions are almost eliminated when honey bee larvae are reared artificially in the laboratory. Naturally- and artificially-reared adult honey bees were introduced into an observation hive and observed twice daily for 28 days. Artificially-reared bees engaged in every behaviour in which naturally-reared bees engaged including: attending the queen, ventilation, guarding, attending a waggle dance, performing a waggle dance, and foraging. These observations highlight that artificially-reared bees are capable of preforming a myriad of honey bee behaviours. Additionally, there was not a detectable effect of rearing environment on the mean age at which bees were observed conducting specific age related behaviours, suggesting that artificially reared bees are responding appropriately to colony level cues that coordinate task allocation within age-related polyethism. However, we did observe a statistically detectable reduction in lifespan of bees that were reared artificially compared to bees that had been reared naturally. Our results indicate that rearing environment may not have pronounced impact on the likelihood that adult bees will perform a task. However, we only detected execution of each task and did not assess the quality of that task execution. Furthermore, these data do not address questions regarding collective behaviours that emerge at the colony level such as brood and/or honey production, swarming, or nest construction.


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