Aging and development in social insects with emphasis on the honey bee, Apis mellifera L

Robert E. Page, Christine Y.S. Peng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

272 Scopus citations


Honey bee co`lonies typically consist of about 20-40 thousand workers, zero to few thousand males (drones), depending on the time of year, and a single queen, the mother of the colony. Workers typically live 3-6weeks during the spring and summer and can live about 4months during the winter. Queens are longer lived. Anecdotes of queens living 2-3years are not unusual, though they normally live less than a year in commercial hives. Little is known about the life span of drones.Queens develop from fertilized eggs that are not different from the eggs that develop into workers. Queens are, however, twice as large, have specialized anatomy, live much longer, and develop faster from egg to adult. All of these differences are derived from differences in larval rearing environment, primarily nutrition. The developmental trajectory of a female larva from worker into a queen can be determined as late as the third day of larval development, after this time the developmental pathway is fixed for a worker phenotype. The total time of larval development is only 5-6days, therefore, just 2-3days of differential feeding can lead to profound differences in development, and longevity.Workers undergo age development after they become adults. Workers usually initiate foraging behavior when they are 2-3weeks old. The age at which a worker initiates foraging is a strong determinant of her length of life. This is presumed to be a result of the hazards of foraging, but natural senescence also occurs. Some bees remain in the nest and are never observed to forage, thereby outliving their forager sisters. Corresponding to this behavioral development are changes in the sizes of glands and the production of glandular products, increases in biogenic amine titers within the brain, an increase in the volume of specific regions of the brain, and changes in the neural system that affect perception of stimuli, and learning and memory. These age-related changes in behavior are regulated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Genetic variation has been demonstrated for many of these life history and behavioral traits. Selection and genome mapping studies have demonstrated relationships between the neural system, behavior, and life history traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-711
Number of pages17
JournalExperimental Gerontology
Issue number4-6
StatePublished - 2001


  • Aging
  • Apis mellifera
  • Development
  • Honey bee
  • Social insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Aging
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Endocrinology
  • Cell Biology


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