Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 403–423

Factors influencing seasonal absconding in colonies of the African honey bee,Apis mellifera scutellata

  • S. S. Schneider
  • L. C. McNally
Research Articles

DOI: 10.1007/BF01240624

Cite this article as:
Schneider, S.S. & McNally, L.C. Ins. Soc (1992) 39: 403. doi:10.1007/BF01240624


This study investigated the effects of colony growth and development, food storage, foraging activity and weather on the migration behavior of African honey bees in the Okavango River Delta, Botswana. Four observation colonies were studied during the honey bee migration season (November–May), at which time the availability of blooming species was reduced. Two of the colonies (colonies 1 & 2) migrated during the study period, while the remaining two (colonies 3 & 4) did not. During the 4–6 weeks preceding the onset of migration preparations, colonies 1 & 2 exhibited increasing population sizes, high levels of brood production with low brood mortality, relatively large stores of food, and increasing mass. In contrast, the populations of colonies 3 & 4 did not increase, brood-rearing activity was erratic and lower, brood mortality was higher, food stores became depleted and colony mass declined. Both colonies 3 & 4 ceased rearing brood, and colony 3 died of starvation. Colony foraging activity was examined by monitoring waggle-dance activity 2–3 days each week. For 4–6 weeks before the onset of migration in colonies 1 & 2, daily foraging areas and mean daily foraging distances became increasingly large and variable. Colonies 3 & 4 exhibited foraging patterns similar to those observed for colonies 1 & 2 preceding migration. There was no clear association between 7 weather parameters examined and migration behavior. These data suggest that migration is influenced by an interaction of intra-colony demographics, food reserves and foraging patterns. Migration may be feasible only for those colonies that possess (1) a population of appropriate size and age structure to compensate for the natural attrition of older workers during the emigration process, and (2) sufficient food reserves for long-distance travel and the establishment of a new nest. Changing foraging patterns may reflect a deteriorating foraging environment, which may trigger the onset of migration preparations, provided that colony demographics and food reserves are conducive. Colonies that show decreased brood production, higher brood mortality and reduced food stores may be incapable of migrating, even when experiencing deteriorating foraging conditions. Rather, such colonies may have a greater chance of survival if they attempt to persist in a given area.

Key words

Honey beemigrationforagingApis mellifera scutellatawaggle danceabsconding

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. S. Schneider
    • 1
  • L. C. McNally
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of North CarolinaCharlotteUSA