Decentralized control of drone comb construction in honey bee colonies

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23 Scopus citations


Honey bee colonies furnish their nests with two types of comb distinguished by cell size: large cells for rearing males (drone comb) and small cells for rearing workers (worker comb). The bees actively regulate the relative quantity of each type, a behavior likely to be important in setting a colony's sex ratio. Experimental analysis of the information pathways and control mechanisms responsible for this regulation found the following results. The amount of drone comb in a nest is governed by negative feedback from drone comb already constructed. This feedback depends on the workers having direct contact with the drone comb in their nest, but does not depend on the queen's contact with the comb. The comb itself, rather than the brood within it, is sufficient to provide the negative feedback, although the brood may also contribute to the effect. These findings show that drone comb regulation does not depend on the queen acting as a centralized information gatherer and behavioral controller. Instead, the evidence points to a decision-making process distributed across the population of worker bees, a control architecture typical of colony organization in honey bees and other large-colony insect societies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-205
Number of pages13
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Apis mellifera
  • Comb
  • Decentralized control
  • Drone
  • Honey bee

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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