Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 1–9 | Cite as

Honeybee colony drone production and maintenance in accordance with environmental factors: an interplay of queen and worker decisions

Review Article


Social insect colonies display a remarkable ability to adjust investment in reproduction (i.e., production of sexuals) in accordance with environmental conditions such as season and food availability. How this feat is accomplished by the colony’s queen(s) and workers remains a puzzle. Here, I review what we have learned about this subject in the European honeybee (Apis mellifera), specifically with regard to a colony’s production of males (drones). I identify five environmental conditions that influence colony-level patterns of drone production and then define five stages of drone rearing that are accomplished by the queen and workers. Using this framework, I detail our current understanding of how the queen or workers adjust their actions at each stage of drone rearing in response to each of the environmental conditions. Future investigations of this topic in honeybees and other social insect societies will lead to a better understanding of how colonies manage to flexibly and efficiently allocate their resources under changing environmental conditions.


Honeybees Drones Colony organization Sex allocation Cooperation 



I thank F. C. Dyer, T. Getty and T. D. Seeley for helpful discussions on the ideas in this paper. Many thanks are due also to K. E. Holekamp, Z. Y. Huang and two anonymous reviewers for comments on a draft of this paper. My work was supported by an NSF fellowship on sequential decision-making (IGERT DGE 0114378).


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel/Switzerland 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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