The presence of the honey bee queen reduces worker ovary activation. When the queen is healthy and fecund, this is interpreted as an adaptive response as workers can gain fitness from helping the queen raise additional offspring, their sisters. However, when the queen is absent, workers activate their ovaries and lay unfertilized eggs that become males. Queen pheromones are recognised as a factor affecting worker ovary activation. Recent work has shown that queen mandibular pheromone composition changes with queen mating condition and workers show different behavioural responses to pheromone extracts from these queens. Here, we tested whether workers reared in colonies with queens of different mating condition varied in level of ovary activation. We also examined the changes in the chemical composition of the queen mandibular glands to determine if the pheromone blend varied among the queens. We found that the workers activated their ovaries when queens were unmated and had lower ovary activation when raised with mated queens, suggesting that workers detect and respond adaptively to queens of differing mating status. Moreover, variation in queen mandibular gland's chemical composition correlated with the levels of worker ovary activation. Although correlative, this evidence suggests that queen pheromone may act as a signal of queen mating condition for workers, in response to which they alter their level of ovary activation.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Insect Science