Bulletin of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 73, Issue 3, pp 626–638 | Cite as

A Game Theoretical Analysis of the Mating Sign Behavior in the Honey Bee

  • M. Wilhelm
  • M. Chhetri
  • J. Rychtář
  • O. Rueppell
Original Article


Queens of the honey bee, Apis mellifera (L.), exhibit extreme polyandry, mating with up to 45 different males (drones). This increases the genetic diversity of their colonies, and consequently their fitness. After copulation, drones leave a mating sign in the genital opening of the queen which has been shown to promote additional mating of the queen. On one hand, this signing behavior is beneficial for the drone because it increases the genetic diversity of the resulting colony that is to perpetuate his genes. On the other hand, it decreases the proportion of the drone’s personal offspring among colony members which is reducing drone fitness. We analyze the adaptiveness and evolutionary stability of this drone’s behavior with a game-theoretical model. We find that theoretically both the strategy of leaving a mating sign and the strategy of not leaving a mating sign can be evolutionary stable, depending on natural parameters. However, the signing strategy is not favored for most scenarios, including the cases that are biologically plausible in reference to empirical data. We conclude that leaving a sign is not in the interest of the drone unless it serves biological functions other than increasing subsequent queen mating chances. Nevertheless, our analysis can also explain the prevalence of such a behavior of honey bee drones by a very low evolutionary pressure for an invasion of the nonsigning strategy.


Mating behavior ESS Game theory Strategy Social insects Multiple mating Mating plug 


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Copyright information

© Society for Mathematical Biology 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Wilhelm
    • 1
  • M. Chhetri
    • 1
  • J. Rychtář
    • 1
  • O. Rueppell
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Mathematics and StatisticsThe University of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyThe University of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroUSA

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