In-hive patterns of temporal polyethism in strains of honey bees (Apis mellifera) with distinct genetic backgrounds

Adam J. Siegel, M. Kim Fondrk, Gro Amdam, Robert Page

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Honey bee workers exhibit an age-based division of labor (temporal polyethism, DOL). Younger bees transition through sets of tasks within the nest; older bees forage outside. Components of temporal polyethism remain unrevealed. Here, we investigate the timing and pattern of pre-foraging behavior in distinct strains of bees to (1) determine if a general pattern of temporal DOL exists in honey bees, (2) to demonstrate a direct genetic impact on temporal pacing, and (3) to further elucidate the mechanisms controlling foraging initiation. Honey bees selected for differences in stored pollen demonstrate consistent differences in foraging initiation age. Those selected for increased pollen storage (high pollen hoarding strain, HSBs) initiate foraging earlier in life than those selected for decreased pollen storage (low pollen hoarding strain, LSBs). We found that HSBs both initiate and terminate individual pre-foraging tasks earlier than LSBs when housed in a common hive environment. Unselected commercial bees (wild type) generally demonstrated intermediate behavioral timing. There were few differences between genotypes for the proportion of pre-foraging effort dedicated to individual tasks, though total pre-foraging effort differences differed dramatically. This demonstrates that behavioral pacing can be accelerated or slowed, but the pattern of behavior is not fundamentally altered, suggesting a general pattern of temporal behavior in honey bees. This also demonstrates direct genetic control of temporal pacing. Finally, our results suggest that earlier HSB protein (pollen) consumption termination compared to LSBs may contribute to an earlier decline in hemolymph vitellogenin protein titers, which would explain their earlier onset of foraging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1623-1632
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • Behavioral pacing
  • Behavioral pattern
  • Division of labor
  • Honey bee worker
  • Pre-foraging behavior
  • Temporal polyethism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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