Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 60, Issue 5, pp 707–715 | Cite as

Propagation of olfactory information within the honeybee hive

  • Christoph Grüter
  • Luis E. Acosta
  • Walter M. FarinaEmail author
Original Article


Transfer of information about food source characteristics within insect societies is essential to colony-foraging success. The food odor communicated within honeybee hives has been shown to be important for food source exploitation. When successful foragers return to the nest and transfer the collected nectar to hive mates through mouth-to-mouth contacts (trophallaxis), potential recruits receiving these samples learn the food odor by associative learning. The food then becomes rapidly distributed among colony members, which is mainly a consequence of the numerous trophallaxes between hive-mates of all ages during food processing. We tested whether the distribution of food among hive mates causes a propagation of olfactory information within the hive. Using the proboscis extension response paradigm, we show that large proportions of bees of the age groups representing the main worker castes, 4 to 9-day-old bees (nurse-aged bees), 12 to 16-day-old bees (food processor-aged bees), and actual foragers (about 17+ day old bees) associatively learn the food odor in the course of processing food that has been collected by only a few foragers. Results further suggest that the information is shared more or less equally between bees of the three age groups. This shows that olfactory information about the flower species exploited by foragers is distributed within the entire colony and is acquired by bees of all age groups, which may influence many behaviors inside and outside the hive.


Apis mellifera Proboscis extension reflex Information propagation Trophallaxis Olfactory learning 



We are deeply indebted to A. Arenas for much thoughtful advice and support during the experiment and I. Hamilton and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. We also thank A. Arenas, and H. Verna for technical assistance. This study was supported by funds from ANPCYT (01-12319), CONICET (02049) and University of Buenos Aires (X 036) to WMF. CG is supported by the VDRB, Commission for travelgrants of the SANW, Dr. De Giacomi Stiftung, Basler Stiftung für biologische Forschung. When we carried out our experiments, we adhered to the legal requirements of the country.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christoph Grüter
    • 1
    • 2
  • Luis E. Acosta
    • 1
  • Walter M. Farina
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Grupo de Estudio de Insectos Sociales, IFIBYNE-CONICET. Departamento de Biodiversidad y Biología Experimental, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y NaturalesUniversidad de Buenos Aires, Pabellón II, Ciudad Universitaria, (C1428EHA)Buenos AiresArgentina
  2. 2.Division of Behavioural EcologyUniversity of BernHinterkappelenSwitzerland

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