Surgically increased ovarian mass in the honey bee confirms link between reproductive physiology and worker behavior

Ying Wang, Osman Kaftanoglu, Adam J. Siegel, Robert Page, Gro Amdam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) workers are essentially sterile females that are used to study how complex social behavior develops. Workers perform nest tasks, like nursing larvae, prior to field tasks, like foraging. Despite worker sterility, this behavioral progression correlates with ovary size: workers with larger ovaries (many ovary filaments) start foraging at younger ages on average. It is untested, however, whether the correlation confers a causal relationship between ovary size and behavioral development. Here, we successfully grafted supernumerary ovaries into worker bees to produce an artificial increase in the amount of ovary tissue. We next measured fat body mRNA levels for the yolk precursor gene vitellogenin, which influences honey bee behavioral development and can correlate with ovary size. Vitellogenin was equally expressed in surgical controls and bees with supernumerary ovaries, leading us to predict that these groups would be characterized by equal behavior. Contrary to our prediction, bees with supernumerary ovaries showed accelerated behavioral development compared to surgical controls, which behaved like reference bees that were not treated surgically. To explore this result we monitored fat body expression levels of a putative ecdysteroid-response gene, HR46, which is genetically linked to ovary size in workers. Our data establish that social insect worker behavior can be directly influenced by ovaries, and that HR46 expression changes with ovary size independent of vitellogenin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1816-1824
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of insect physiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Behavioral development
  • Division of labor
  • HR46
  • Ovary size
  • Sterility
  • Tissue grafting
  • Vitellogenin
  • Worker bee

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Insect Science


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