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Bees Remain Altruistic When The Queen Dies

A new study has shown that honeybees show remarkable altruism towards their colony even when faced with the collapse of their colony.

| August 5, 2013 | In the Lab

Asian Scientist (Aug. 5, 2013) - A new study has shown that even in the hopeless situation of colony collapse, queenless honeybees will still show remarkable altruism towards their colony, defending and feeding the collective.

According to the study, published in Current Biology, this societal structure gives new insight into primitive animal societies before evolution saw the role of the queen emerge.

Normally, a honey bee colony contains a single reproductive queen attended by thousands of sterile workers, but no one had studied how the workers respond when the queen dies.

To address this gap, Dr Andrew Barron from Macquarie University in Australia observed the behavioral patterns of queenless honeybee colonies.

“As concern over global colony collapse continues, it’s important that we look at societal structures carefully, to more accurately model behaviors,” said Barron.

“We’ve studied bees so intensely, but no-one’s kept watching after the queen bee has died. Now for the first time, we can see that in a hopeless queenless colony – the terminal phase – honeybees continue to work together to defend the colony, forage and feed each other. Altruism persists, despite earlier assumptions to the contrary.”

The researchers were surprised to see this altruism in a failing colony. Without the queen the workers began laying eggs and raising male drones.

It was assumed that reproductive worker bees would selfishly prioritize their own reproduction over colony care – seeing an increase of selfish behavior, and corresponding decrease in altruism.

“Although selfish behavior did increase,” Barron says, “we saw that altruism did not decrease. The colonies effectively became worker communes – collective societies where bees became generalists, maintaining and defending the colony together, to the end.”

The article can be found at: Naeger et al. (2013) Altruistic Behavior By Egg-Laying Worker Honeybees.

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Source: Macquarie University; Photo: dni777/Flickr.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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