Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 7, pp 985–995 | Cite as

What makes a honeybee scout?

  • Madeleine Beekman
  • Amy L. Gilchrist
  • Michael Duncan
  • David J. T. Sumpter
Original Paper


A honeybee colony needs to divide its workforce so that each of the many tasks it performs has an appropriate number of workers assigned to it. This task allocation system needs to be flexible enough to allow the colony to quickly adapt to an ever-changing environment. In this study, we examined possible mechanisms by which a honeybee colony regulates the division of labor between scouts (foragers that search for new food sources without having been guided to them) and recruits (foragers that were guided via recruitment dances toward food sources). Specifically, we examined the roles that the availability of recruitment dances and worker genotype has in the colony-level regulation of the number of workers engaged in scouting. Our approach was threefold. We first developed a mathematical model to demonstrate that the decision to become a scout or a recruit could be regulated by whether a potential forager can find a recruitment dance within a certain time period. We then tested this model by investigating the effect of dance availability on the regulation of scouts in the field. Lastly, we investigated if the probability of being a scout has a genetic basis. Our field data supported the hypothesis that scouts are those foragers that have failed to locate a recruitment dance as predicted by our model, but we found no effect of genotype on the propensity of foragers to become scouts.


Apis Division of labor Foraging Honeybees Scouting 


  1. Beekman M, Ratnieks FLW (2000) Long range foraging by the honeybee Apis mellifera L. Funct Ecol 14:490–496CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beekman M, Sumpter DJT, Ratnieks FLW (2001) Phase transition between disorganised and organised foraging in Pharaoh’s ants. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98:9703–9706PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beekman M, Sumpter DJT, Seraphides N, Ratnieks FLW (2004) Comparing foraging behaviour of small and large honey bee colonies by decoding waggle dances made by foragers. Funct Ecol 18:829–835CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beekman M, Fathke RL, Seeley TD (2006) How does an informed minority of scouts guide a honeybee swarm as it flies to its new home? Anim Behav 71:161–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Biesmeijer JC, Ermers MCW (1999) Social foraging in stingless bees: how colonies of Melipona fasciata choose among nectar sources. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 46:129–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Biesmeijer JC, Seeley TD (2005) The use of waggle dance information by honey bees throughout their foraging careers. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 59:133–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Biesmeijer JC, Vries de H (2001) Exploration and exploitation of food sources by social insect colonies: a revision of the scout-recruit concept. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 49:89–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brown MJF, Gordon DM (2000) How resources and encounters affect the distribution of foraging activity in a seed-harvesting ant. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 47:195–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Calderone NW, Page RE (1988) Genotypic variability in age polyethism and task specialization in the honey bee, Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 22:17–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Calderone NW, Page RE (1992) Effects of interactions among genotypically diverse nestmates on task specialization by foraging honey bees (Apis mellifera). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 30:219–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Camazine S, Sneyd J (1991) A model of collective nectar source selection by honey bees: self-organization through simple rules. J Theor Biol 149:547–571CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cohen J (1992) A power primer. Psychol Bull 112:155–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Deneubourg J-L, Pasteels JM, Verhaeghe JC (1983) Probabilistic behaviour in ants: a strategy of errors? J Theor Biol 105:259–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Deneubourg J-L, Aron S, Goss S, Pasteels JM (1987) Error, communication and learning in ant societies. Eur J Oper Res 30:168–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dreller C (1998) Division of labor between scouts and recruits: genetic influence and mechanisms. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 43:191–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dreller C, Fondrk MK, Page RE (1995) Genetic variability affects the behavior of foragers in a feral honeybee colony. Naturwissenschaften 80:231–266Google Scholar
  17. Erdfelder E, Faul F, Buchner A (1996) GPOWER: a general power analysis program. Behav Res Meth Instrum Comput 28:1–11Google Scholar
  18. Estoup A, Solignac M, Cornuet J-M (1994) Precise assessment of the number of patrilines and of genetic relatedness in honey bee colonies. Proc R Soc Lond B 258:1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fewell JH (2003) Social insect networks. Science 301:1867–1870PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fewell JH, Bertram SM (1999) Division of labor in a dynamic environment: response by honeybees (Apis mellifera) to graded changes in colony pollen stores. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 46:171–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. von Frisch K (1923) Über die “Sprache” der Bienen, eine tier-psychologische Untersuchung. Zool Jahrb 40:1–186Google Scholar
  22. von Frisch K (1967) The dance language and orientation of bees. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  23. Janson S, Middendorf M, Beekman M (2007) Searching for a new home scouting behavior of honeybee swarms. Behavioral Ecology in pressGoogle Scholar
  24. Jones JC, Myerscough MR, Graham S, Oldroyd BP (2004) Honey bee nest thermoregulation: diversity promotes stability. Science 305:402–404PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lindauer M (1952) Ein Beitrag zur Frage der Arbeitsteilung im Bienenstaat. Z Vgl Physiol 34:299–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Myerscough MR, Oldroyd BP (2004) Simulation models of the role of genetic variability in social insect task allocation. Insectes Soc 51:146–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Oettingen-Spielberg Tz (1949) Über das Wesen der Suchbiene. Z Vgl Physiol 31:454–489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Oldroyd BP, Smolenski A, Cornuet J-M, Wongsiri S, Estoup A, Rinderer TE, Crozier RH (1996) Levels of polyandry and intracolonial genetic relationships in Apis dorsata (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Ann Entomol Soc Am 89:276–283Google Scholar
  29. Page RE, Waddington KD, Hunt GJ, Fondrk MK (1995) Genetic determinants of honey bee foraging behaviour. Anim Behav 50:1617–1625CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Page RE, Erber J, Fondrk MK (1998) The effect of genotype on response threshold to sucrose and foraging behavior of honey bees (Apis mellifera L.). J Comp Physiol [A] 182:489–500CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Palmer KA, Oldroyd BP (2000) Evolution of multiple mating in the genus Apis. Apidologie 31:235–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Passino KM, Seeley TD (2006) Modeling and analysis of nest-site selection by honeybee swarms: the speed and accuracy trade-off. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 59:427–442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pasteels JM, Deneubourg J-L, Goss S (1987) Self-organization mechanisms in ant societies (I): trail recruitment to newly discovered food sources. Experientia Suppl 54:155–175Google Scholar
  34. Schneider SS (1989) Spatial foraging patterns of the African honeybee, Apis mellifera scutellata. J Insect Behav 2:505–521CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Seeley TD (1983) Division of labor between scouts and recruits in honeybee foraging. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 12:253–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Seeley TD (1995) The wisdom of the hive. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  37. Seeley TD, Camazine S, Sneyd J (1991) Collective decision-making in honey bees: how colonies choose among nectar sources. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 28:277–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sumpter DJT (2000) From bee to society: an agent-based investigation of honey bee colonies. Ph.D. thesis, University of Manchester, ManchesterGoogle Scholar
  39. Sumpter DJT (2005) The principles of collective animal behaviour. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B 361:5–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sumpter DJT, Beekman M (2003) From non-linearity to optimality: pheromone trail foraging by ants. Anim Behav 66:273–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sumpter DJT, Pratt SC (2003) A modelling framework for understanding social insect foraging. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 53:131–144Google Scholar
  42. Theraulaz G, Bonabeau E, Deneubourg J-L (1998) Response threshold reinforcement and division of labour in insect societies. Proc R Soc Lond B 265:327–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Visscher PK, Seeley TD (1982) Foraging strategy of honeybee colonies in a temperate deciduous forest. Ecology 63:1790–1801CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Waddington KD, Visscher PK, Herbert TJ, Raveret Richter M (1994) Comparisons of forager distributions from matched honey bee colonies in suburban environments. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 35:423–429Google Scholar
  45. Zar JH (1996) Biostatistical analysis. Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Madeleine Beekman
    • 1
  • Amy L. Gilchrist
    • 1
  • Michael Duncan
    • 1
  • David J. T. Sumpter
    • 2
  1. 1.Behaviour and Genetics of Social Insects Laboratory, School of Biological SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyOxford UniversityOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations