Starvation stress during larval development facilitates an adaptive response in adult worker honey bees (Apis mellifera L.)

Ying Wang, Osman Kaftanoglu, Colin S. Brent, Robert Page, Gro Amdam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Most organisms are constantly faced with environmental changes and stressors. In diverse organisms, there is an anticipatory mechanism during development that can program adult phenotypes. The adult phenotype would be adapted to the predicted environment that occurred during organism maturation. However, whether this anticipatory mechanism is present in eusocial species is questionable because eusocial organisms are largely shielded from exogenous conditions by their stable nest environment. In this study, we tested whether food deprivation during development of the honey bee (Apis mellifera), a eusocial insect model, can shift adult phenotypes to better cope with nutritional stress. After subjecting fifth instar worker larvae to short-term starvation, we measured nutrition-related morphology, starvation resistance, physiology, endocrinology and behavior in the adults. We found that the larval starvation caused adult honey bees to become more resilient toward starvation. Moreover, the adult bees were characterized by reduced ovary size, elevated glycogen stores and juvenile hormone (JH) titers, and decreased sugar sensitivity. These changes, in general, can help adult insects survive and reproduce in food-poor environments. Overall, we found for the first time support for an anticipatory mechanism in a eusocial species, the honey bee. Our results suggest that this mechanism may play a role in honey bee queen-worker differentiation and worker division of labor, both of which are related to the responses to nutritional stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)949-959
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Adaptive response
  • Anticipatory mechanism
  • Division of labor
  • Eusocial species
  • Glucose
  • Glycogen
  • Lipid
  • Nutrition
  • Stress response
  • Trehalose

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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