Percent lipid is associated with body size but not task in the bumble bee Bombus impatiens

  • Margaret J. CouvillonEmail author
  • Jennifer M. Jandt
  • Jennifer Bonds
  • Bryan R. Helm
  • Anna Dornhaus
Original Paper


In some group-living organisms, labor is divided among individuals. This allocation to particular tasks is frequently stable and predicted by individual physiology. Social insects are excellent model organisms in which to investigate the interplay between physiology and individual behavior, as division of labor is an important feature within colonies, and individual physiology varies among the highly related individuals of the colony. Previous studies have investigated what factors are important in determining how likely an individual is, compared to nestmates, to perform certain tasks. One such task is foraging. Corpulence (i.e., percent lipid) has been shown to determine foraging propensity in honey bees and ants, with leaner individuals being more likely to be foragers. Is this a general trend across all social insects? Here we report data analyzing the individual physiology, specifically the percent lipid, of worker bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) from whom we also analyze behavioral task data. Bumble bees are also unusual among the social bees in that workers may vary widely in size. Surprisingly we find that, unlike other social insects, percent lipid is not associated with task propensity. Rather, body size closely predicts individual relative lipid stores, with smaller worker bees being allometrically fatter than larger worker bees.


Lipid Size polymorphism Social insects Bumble bees Division of labor 



We would like to thank both Leif Abrell and Goggy Davidowitz for their help with our lipid extraction methodology. Additionally, Goggy allowed us to use his lab space for the work. Thanks to LASI Data Club for helpful discussions. MJC was funded by an NIH PERT Postdoctoral Fellowship through the Center for Insect Science at the University of Arizona.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margaret J. Couvillon
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jennifer M. Jandt
    • 1
  • Jennifer Bonds
    • 1
  • Bryan R. Helm
    • 1
  • Anna Dornhaus
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Laboratory of Apiculture and Social InsectsSchool of Life Sciences, University of SussexBrightonUK

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