Maternity of emergency queens in the Cape honey bee, Apis mellifera capensis


Madeleine Beekman, Fax: +61 (2) 9351 4771; E-mail:


During reproductive swarming, some workers of the Cape honey bee, Apis mellifera capensis, lay eggs in queen cells, many of which are reared to maturity. However, it is unknown if workers are able to lay in queen cells immediately after queen loss during an episode of emergency queen rearing. In this study we experimentally de-queened colonies and determined the maternity of larvae and pupae that were reared as queens. This allowed us to determine how soon after queen loss workers contribute to the production of new queens. We were further interested to see if workers would preferentially raise new queens from queen-laid brood if this was introduced later. We performed our manipulations in two different settings: an apiary setting where colonies were situated close together and a more natural situation in which the colonies were well separated. This allowed us to determine how the vicinity of other colonies affects the presence of parasites. We found that workers do indeed contribute to queen cell production immediately after the loss of their queen, thus demonstrating that some workers either have activated ovaries even when their colony has a queen or are able to activate their ovaries extremely rapidly. Queen-laid brood introduced days after queen loss was ignored, showing that workers do not prefer to raise new queens from queen brood when given a choice. We also detected non-natal parasitism of queen cells in both settings. We therefore conclude that some A. m. capensis genotypes specialize in parasitizing queen cells.