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Age and Behavior of Honey Bee Workers, Apis mellifera, that Interact with Drones


Stanley S. Schneider, Department of Biology, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, NC 28223, USA.


Colony reproduction in honey bees involves complex interactions between sterile workers and reproductive castes. Although worker–queen interactions have been studied in detail, worker–drone interactions are less well understood. We investigated caste interactions in honey bees by determining the age and behavior of workers that perform vibration signals, trophallaxis, and grooming with drones. Workers of all ages could engage in the different interactions monitored, although workers that performed vibration signals on drones were significantly older than those engaging in trophallaxis and grooming. Only 3–8% of workers engaged in the different behaviors were monitored. Compared with workers that performed vibration signals only on workers (‘worker vibrators’), those that performed signals on both workers and drones (‘drone vibrators’) had greater movement rates inside the nest, higher vibration signaling rates, and were more likely to have an immediate association with foraging. Both worker vibrators and drone vibrators contacted drones of all ages as they moved through the nest. However, drone vibrators contacted drones at higher rates, contacted slightly, but significantly younger drones, and were more likely to engage in trophallaxis and grooming with drones, in addition to vibrating them. Taken together, our results suggest that tiny proportions of workers belonging to separate, but overlapping age groups provide most of the care received by adult drones, and that drone vibrators comprise a subset of signalers within a colony that have an increased tendency to contact and interact with drones. Vibratory, tactile signals are involved in colony reproductive and movement decisions in a number of species of bees, wasps and ants, and may provide valuable tools for investigating caste interactions in many insect societies.