Nest-Site Defense by Competing Honey Bee Swarms During House-Hunting

Authors


Juliana Rangel, Department of Entomology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.
E-mail: jrangel@ncsu.edu, jr369@cornell.edu

Abstract

Cavity-nesting animals must often defend their homes against intruders, especially when the availability of suitable cavities is limited. Competition for nest sites is particularly strong when multiple groups of the same species migrate synchronously to found a new home. This may be the case for honey bees during the reproductive season, because neighboring colonies often cast swarms simultaneously, leading to potential competition for high-quality nesting cavities. To test the idea that honey bee swarms may compete for and defend potential nest sites as they search for a new home, we observed pairs of artificial swarms that were house-hunting concurrently. Workers from one swarm in each pair carried a gene influencing body color, so that the bees from the two swarms were easily distinguished. We set up a high-quality nest box and waited for nest-site scouts from each swarm to explore and recruit swarm mates to it. We recorded all the interactions between competing scouts at the nest box and found that when scouts from both swarms explored the box simultaneously they behaved agonistically toward bees from the other swarm. The level of aggression depended on the number of scouts from each swarm present at the nest box. When only one to three scouts from each swarm were at the box, they rarely fought. But when the scouts from one swarm outnumbered those from the other swarm (4–20 vs. one to three bees), those in the majority advertised their presence with a buzzing behavior at the entrance opening, and started mobbing and killing those in the minority. When one swarm gained clear control of the nest box (20+ vs. zero to one bees), some of its scouts guarded the box’s entrance, preventing entry by foreign scouts. Our study exemplifies how cavity-nesting animals may compete for and defend suitable nesting sites.

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