Original Paper

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 68, Issue 11, pp 1777-1784

First online:

Pathogen-associated self-medication behavior in the honeybee Apis mellifera

  • Bogdan I. GhermanAffiliated withDepartment of Apiculture and Sericulture, University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine
  • , Andreas DennerAffiliated withDepartment of Apiculture and Sericulture, University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine
  • , Otilia BobişAffiliated withDepartment of Apiculture and Sericulture, University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine
  • , Daniel S. DezmireanAffiliated withDepartment of Apiculture and Sericulture, University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine Email author 
  • , Liviu A. MărghitaşAffiliated withDepartment of Apiculture and Sericulture, University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine
  • , Helge SchlünsAffiliated withDepartment of Apiculture and Sericulture, University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary MedicineBehavioural Biology, University of Osnabrück
  • , Robin F. A. MoritzAffiliated withDepartment of Apiculture and Sericulture, University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary MedicineInstitut für Biologie, Molekulare Ökologie, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-WittenbergDepartment of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria
  • , Silvio ErlerAffiliated withDepartment of Apiculture and Sericulture, University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary MedicineInstitut für Biologie, Molekulare Ökologie, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg Email author 

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Abstract

Honeybees, Apis mellifera, have several prophylactic disease defense strategies, including the foraging of antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral compounds of plant products. Hence, honey and pollen contain many compounds that prevent fungal and bacterial growth and inhibit viral replication. Since these compounds are also fed to the larvae by nurse bees, they play a central role for colony health inside the hive. Here, we show that honeybee nurse bees, infected with the microsporidian gut parasite Nosema ceranae, show different preferences for various types of honeys in a simultaneous choice test. Infected workers preferred honeys with a higher antibiotic activity that reduced the microsporidian infection after the consumption of the honey. Since nurse bees feed not only the larvae but also other colony members, this behavior might be a highly adaptive form of therapeutic medication at both the individual and the colony level.

Keywords

Honeybee Honey Antimicrobial activity Therapeutic self-medication Nosema ceranae Social immunity