Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 63, Issue 12, pp 1829–1836 | Cite as

Weak specialization of workers inside a bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) nest

  • Jennifer M. JandtEmail author
  • Eden Huang
  • Anna Dornhaus
Original Paper


Division of labor is common across social groups. In social insects, many studies focus on the differentiation of in-nest and foraging workers and/or the division of foraging tasks. Few studies have specifically examined how workers divide in-nest tasks. In the bumble bee, Bombus impatiens, we have shown previously that smaller workers are more likely to feed larvae and incubate brood, whereas larger workers are more likely to fan or guard the nest. Here, we show that in spite of this, B. impatiens workers generally perform multiple tasks throughout their life. The size of this task repertoire size does not depend on body size, nor does it change with age. Further, individuals were more likely to perform the task they had been performing on the previous day than any other task, a pattern most pronounced among individuals who guarded the nest. On the other hand, there was no predictable sequence of task switching. Because workers tend to remain in the same region of the nest over time, in-nest workers may concentrate on a particular task, or subset of tasks, inside that region. This division of space, then, may be an important mechanism that leads to this weak specialization among in-nest bumble bee workers.


Bombus impatiens Bumble bee Division of labor Division of labor index Task repertoire size Task specialization 



We thank Root Gorelick for his help calculating the division of labor index. We thank Nicolas Skye Robbins, Amanda Barth, and Wendy Isner for their help in data collection and assistance with bumble bee maintenance. Margaret Couvillon, Tuan Cao, Nhi Duong, Annie Leonard, and Emily Jones provided useful feedback on the manuscript. This research was supported through the College of Science, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology & Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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