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The Behavior of Honey Bees (Apis mellifera ligustica) during Queen Duels


David C. Gilley, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Seeley G. Mudd Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853. E-mail:


Conflict is rare among the members of a highly cooperative society such as a honey bee colony. However, conflict within a colony increases drastically during colony reproduction (‘swarming’) when newly produced queens fight each other until only one queen remains in the nest. This study describes the behavior of queens and workers during naturally occurring queen combat. The duels of five pairs of queens were observed in three observation colonies. A typical duel is described qualitatively and the events of all five duels are described quantitatively. Several aspects of duels that are of particular interest are examined in detail, including the behavior of queens near capped queen cells, worker aggression toward queens, queen tooting, and the relation of queen and worker behavior to the outcome of the duel. The results of this investigation serve as a foundation for rigorous tests of hypotheses regarding the adaptive significance of queen and worker behavior during queen combat. The results presented suggest that: young queens patrol queen cells to kill rival queens while they are vulnerable; workers aggress queens to prevent them from destroying queen cells; queens toot to inhibit worker aggression; workers immobilize queens to make them easy targets for rival queens; and queens eject hind-gut contents to cause their rival to be immobilized by the workers.