Collective control of the timing and type of comb construction by honey bees (Apis mellifera)

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


This review considers how a honey bee colony optimally controls the timing and type of new comb construction. Optimal timing requires bees to balance the energy costs of construction with the opportunity costs of lacking storage space during nectar flows. They do so by conditioning the start of building on (1) the attainment of a fullness threshold, and (2) the availability of nectar. A dynamic optimization model has suggested that this rule is slightly suboptimal, but may compensate for this by its simplicity and generality. The emergence of this collective strategy from the decisions of individual bees is poorly understood, but recent experiments have cast doubt on the long-standing idea that building is triggered by increased distension of the crops of nest bees. Bees also regulate the relative amounts of drone and worker comb in their nests, with important consequences for their sex investment strategy. Regulation depends on the inhibitory effect of drone comb on further drone comb construction, mediated through a decentralized process requiring that workers have direct contact with the comb. Contact by the queen is not required, nor is the presence of drone brood, although the latter may enhance the strength of inhibition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-205
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Comb
  • Decentralized control
  • Drone
  • Honey bee
  • Life history
  • Self-organization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science


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