The reproductive dilemmas of queenless red dwarf honeybee (Apis florea) workers
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- Nanork, P., Wongsiri, S. & Oldroyd, B.P. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2006) 61: 91. doi:10.1007/s00265-006-0239-4
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Honeybee (Apis) workers cannot mate, but retain functional ovaries. When colonies have lost their queen, many young workers begin to activate their ovaries and lay eggs. Some of these eggs are reared, but most are not and are presumably eaten by other workers (worker policing). Here we explore some of the factors affecting the reproductive success of queenless workers of the red dwarf honeybee Apis florea. Over a 2-year period we collected 40 wild colonies and removed their queens. Only two colonies remained at their translocated site long enough to rear males to pupation while all the others absconded. Absconding usually occurred after worker policing had ceased, as evidenced by the appearance of larvae. Dissections of workers from eight colonies showed that in A. florea, 6% of workers have activated ovaries after 4 days of queenlessness, and that 33% of workers have activated ovaries after 3 weeks. Worker-laid eggs may appear in nests within 4 days and larvae soon after, but this is highly variable. As with Apis mellifera, we found evidence of unequal reproductive success among queenless workers of A. florea. In the two colonies that reared males to pupation and which we studied with microsatellites, some subfamilies had much higher proportions of workers with activated ovaries than others. The significance of absconding and internest reproductive parasitism to the alternative reproductive strategies of queenless A. florea workers is discussed.