Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 287-293

First online:

Adaptive significance of the age polyethism schedule in honeybee colonies

  • Thomas D. SeeleyAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Yale University

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


The adaptive origins of the honeybee's age polyethism schedule were studied by testing whether the schedule for labor inside the nest reflects a compromise between efficiency in locating tasks and efficiency in performing tasks. I checked two predictions of this hypothesis: (1) at each age a worker handles a set of tasks (rather than one task), and (2) the elements of each age's task-set co-occur spatially in the nest (rather than being spatially segregated). Most observations match these predictions, once workers reach the age of 2 days. The unpredicted specialization of 0 to 2-day-old workers on the single task of cell cleaning may reflect an unusual ease in locating work sites for this particular task. There are 5 female castes in honeybee colonies: the queen (reproductive caste), plus 4 age subcastes among the workers (cell cleaning caste, broodnest caste, food storage caste, and forager caste).