Reproductive division of labour is a hallmark of eusociality, but disentangling the underlying proximate mechanisms can be challenging. In bumblebees, workers isolated from the queen can activate their ovaries and lay haploid, male eggs. We investigated if volatile, contact, visual or behavioural cues produced by the queen or brood mediate reproductive dominance in Bombus impatiens. Exposure to queen-produced volatiles, brood-produced volatiles and direct contact with pupae did not reduce worker ovary activation; only direct contact with the queen could reduce ovary activation. We evaluated behaviour, physiology and gene expression patterns in workers that were reared in chambers with all stages of brood and a free queen, caged queen (where workers could contact the queen, but the queen was unable to initiate interactions) or no queen. Workers housed with a caged queen or no queen fully activated their ovaries, whereas ovary activation in workers housed with a free queen was completely inhibited. The caged queen marginally reduced worker aggression and expression of an aggressionassociated gene relative to queenless workers. Thus, queeninitiated behavioural interactions appear necessary to establish reproductive dominance. Queen-produced chemical cues may function secondarily in a context-specific manner to augment behavioural cues, as reliable or honest signal.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes