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Colony fissioning in honey bees: size and significance of the swarm fraction

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During colony founding in honey bees, a portion of a colony’s workforce (the “swarm fraction”) departs with the old mother queen in a swarm while the remaining workforce stays with a new daughter queen in the parental nest. There is little quantitative information about swarm fraction size and about how swarm fraction size affects the growth and survival of mother-queen and daughter-queen colonies. We measured (a) the swarm fraction in naturally fissioning honey bee colonies, (b) the growth and survival of mother-queen colonies as a function of swarm size, and (c) the growth and survival of mother-queen and daughter-queen colonies as a function of the swarm fraction. We found an average swarm fraction of 0.75. We also found a significant positive effect of swarm size and swarm fraction on the growth (i.e., comb built, brood produced, food stored, and weight gained) and the survival of mother-queen colonies. We found no effect of swarm fraction on the survival of daughter-queen colonies. Evidently, a honey bee colony must devote a large majority of its workforce to a swarm so that the mother-queen colony can grow sufficiently rapidly to survive its first winter.

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We thank Sean R. Griffin for helping us collect data in the field. We are also indebted to Consuelo Arellano, Liwei Wang, and Bo Zhang at North Carolina State University for their statistical advice. Funding was provided to J.R. by a U.S. National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (Award no. DGE 0707428), and a State University of New York Graduate Underrepresented Minority Fellowship.

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Correspondence to J. Rangel.

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Rangel, J., Seeley, T.D. Colony fissioning in honey bees: size and significance of the swarm fraction. Insect. Soc. 59, 453–462 (2012).

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