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Respiration of individual honeybee larvae in relation to age and ambient temperature


The CO2 production of individual larvae of Apis mellifera carnica, which were incubated within their cells at a natural air humidity of 60–80%, was determined by an open-flow gas analyzer in relation to larval age and ambient temperature. In larvae incubated at 34 °C the amount of CO2 produced appeared to fall only moderately from 3.89±1.57 µl mg−1 h−1 in 0.5-day-old larvae to 2.98±0.57 µl mg−1 h−1 in 3.5-day-old larvae. The decline was steeper up to an age of 5.5 days (0.95±1.15 µl mg−1 h−1). Our measurements show that the respiration and energy turnover of larvae younger than about 80 h is considerably lower (up to 35%) than expected from extrapolations of data determined in older larvae. The temperature dependency of CO2 production was determined in 3.5-day-old larvae, which were incubated at temperatures varying from 18 to 38 °C in steps of 4 °C. The larvae generated 0.48±0.03 µl mg−1 h−1 CO2 at 18 °C, and 3.97±0.50 µl mg−1 h−1 CO2 at 38 °C. The temperature-dependent respiration rate was fitted to a logistic curve. We found that the inflection point of this curve (32.5 °C) is below the normal brood nest temperature (33–36 °C). The average Q10 was 3.13, which is higher than in freshly emerged resting honeybees but similar to adult bees. This strong temperature dependency enables the bees to speed up brood development by achieving high temperatures. On the other hand, the results suggest that the strong temperature dependency forces the bees to maintain thermal homeostasis of the brood nest to avoid delayed brood development during periods of low temperature.

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Fig. 1
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Fig. 5


m :

body mass

R :

rate of development or respiration

T I :

inflexion point of a logistic (sigmoid) curve

T L :

lethal temperature

T O :

temperature of optimum (maximum) development


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We are greatly indebted to Stefan K. Hetz (Lehrstuhl für Tierphysiologie, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) for many tips and self-sacrificing technical help, and to E. Stabentheiner for measurements of air CO2 content in Graz. The research was supported by the Austrian Fonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung (FWF). The authors declare that the experiments performed in the production of this article comply with the current laws of the Republic of Austria.

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Correspondence to Anton Stabentheiner.

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Communicated by G. Heldmaier

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Petz, M., Stabentheiner, A. & Crailsheim, K. Respiration of individual honeybee larvae in relation to age and ambient temperature. J Comp Physiol B 174, 511–518 (2004).

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  • Apis
  • Honeybee larva
  • Respiration
  • CO2 production
  • Temperature