Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 66, Issue 4, pp 593–599 | Cite as

Queenless colonies contribute to the male breeding population at honey bee drone congregation areas

  • P. Utaipanon
  • M. J. Holmes
  • B. P. OldroydEmail author
Research Article


Honey bee workers can lay eggs that result in viable males (drones). In queenless colonies, workers activate their ovaries and lay eggs, both in their own colony and in other queenless colonies. While worker reproduction and reproductive parasitism are well demonstrated, the direct contribution of reproductive workers to the gene pool is unclear. Queenless workers mostly lay their eggs in worker-sized brood cells. The resulting drones are smaller than normal drones. We determined two measures of forewing size in drones reared in drone-sized cells (DC) and in worker-sized cells (WC). Forewing length and width were 5.78 ± 0.26 mm (± SD) and 1.27 ± 0.08 mm, respectively, for drones reared in DC, and 5.01 ± 0.21 mm and 1.11 ± 0.05 mm for drones reared in WC. Discriminant function analysis indicated that forewing length alone is sufficient to differentiate DC and WC drones. To determine the contribution of worker-laid drones to the mating population, we sampled males at a natural mating lek using a Williams’ drone trap every month for 12 months. We used the discriminant function to assign drones as being DC or WC based on their forewing length and a strict classification criterion of ≥ 0.99% posterior probability of assignment to one or other group. We estimate that about 0.23% of sampled males were reared in WC and were, therefore, likely to have been laid by workers. Our results suggest that queenless workers and queenless colonies make a small contribution to the male mating population, and that this contribution may be sufficient to provide ongoing selection for worker reproductive parasitism.


Worker reproduction Reproductive success Worker reproductive parasitism Effective population size Population sampling Drone congregation area 



We thank Gabriele Buchmann and Lea Abdulkhalek for assistance with drone trapping.


This project was supported by AgriFutures Australia, though funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program, as well as Horticulture Innovation Australia. This part of the project is being led by the University of Sydney with further support from Almond Board of Australia, Lucerne Australia, Costa and Raspberries and Blackberries Australia.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 34 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 113 kb)


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Behaviour and Genetics of Social Insects Lab, Ecology and Evolution, Macleay Building A12University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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