Original Paper

Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 180, Issue 1, pp 45-55

First online:

Lifetime- and caste-specific changes in flight metabolic rate and muscle biochemistry of honeybees, Apis mellifera

  • Marie-Pierre SchippersAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, McMaster University
  • , Reuven DukasAffiliated withDepartments of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, McMaster University
  • , Grant B. McClellandAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, McMaster University Email author 

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Honeybees, Apis mellifera, who show temporal polyethism, begin their adult life performing tasks inside the hive (hive bees) and then switch to foraging when they are about 2–3 weeks old (foragers). Usually hive tasks require little or no flying, whereas foraging involves flying for several hours a day and carrying heavy loads of nectar and pollen. Flight muscles are particularly plastic organs that can respond to use and disuse, and accordingly it would be expected that adjustments in flight muscle metabolism occur throughout a bee’s life. We thus investigated changes in lifetime flight metabolic rate and flight muscle biochemistry of differently aged hive bees and of foragers with varying foraging experience. Rapid increases in flight metabolic rates early in life coincided with a switch in troponin T isoforms and increases in flight muscle maximal activities (V max) of the enzymes citrate synthase, cytochrome c oxidase, hexokinase, phosphofructokinase, and pyruvate kinase. However, further increases in flight metabolic rate in experienced foragers occurred without additional changes in the in vitro V max of these flight muscle metabolic enzymes. Estimates of in vivo flux (v) compared to maximum flux of each enzyme in vitro (fractional velocity, v/V max) suggest that most enzymes operate at a higher fraction of V max in mature foragers compared to young hive bees. Our results indicate that honeybees develop most of their flight muscle metabolic machinery early in life. Any further increases in flight metabolism with age or foraging experience are most likely achieved by operating metabolic enzymes closer to their maximal flux capacity.


Bee Flight Insect Ontogeny Metabolic enzyme Metabolic rate Troponin T