Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 60, Issue 1, pp 65–73 | Cite as

The effects of honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) queen reproductive potential on colony growth

Research Article


Reproduction in species of eusocial insects is monopolized by one or a few individuals, while the remaining colony tasks are performed by the worker caste. This reproductive division of labor is exemplified by honey bees (Apis mellifera L.), in which a single, polyandrous queen is the sole colony member that lays fertilized eggs. Previous work has revealed that the developmental fate of honey bee queens is highly plastic, with queens raised from younger worker larvae exhibiting higher measures in several aspects of reproductive potential compared to queens raised from older worker larvae. Here, we investigated the effects of queen reproductive potential (“quality”) on the growth and winter survival of newly established honey bee colonies. We did so by comparing the growth of colonies headed by “high-quality” queens (i.e., those raised from young worker larvae, which are more queen-like morphologically) to those headed by “low-quality” queens (i.e., those raised from older worker larvae, which are more worker-like morphologically). We confirmed that queens reared from young worker larvae were significantly larger in size than queens reared from old worker larvae. We also found a significant positive effect of queen grafting age on a colony’s production of worker comb, drone comb, and stored food (honey and pollen), although we did not find a statistically significant difference in the production of worker and drone brood, worker population, and colony weight. Our results provide evidence that in honey bees, queen developmental plasticity influences several important measures of colony fitness. Thus, the present study supports the idea that a honey bee colony can be viewed (at least in part) as the expanded phenotype of its queen, and thus selection acting predominantly at the colony level can be congruent with that at the individual level.


Apis mellifera Colony growth Expanded phenotype Honey bees Reproduction Queen quality 

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 42 kb)


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EntomologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  2. 2.Keck Center for Behavioral BiologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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