Demand for Task Performance and Workforce Replacement: Undertakers in Honeybee, Apis mellifera, Colonies

Abstract

Undertakers are a specialized task group of honey bees that remove dead bees from the colony. The mean adult age of undertakers is 12.5 days; this is similar to that of other specialized task groups, such as guards. The mean number of undertakers in colonies was 544. However, because the number of bees expressing this behavior is dependent on the demand for task performance, undertaker estimates vary depending on the experimental technique. Increasing the demand for undertaking resulted in more bees engaging in the task. Depleting the number of undertakers by removal of bees carrying corpses resulted in new bees assuming undertaking duties. These results support a response-threshold model for engagement of worker bees in task performance.

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Correspondence to Michael D. Breed.

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Breed, M.D., Williams, D.B. & Queral, A. Demand for Task Performance and Workforce Replacement: Undertakers in Honeybee, Apis mellifera, Colonies. Journal of Insect Behavior 15, 319–329 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1016261008322

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  • honey bee
  • task allocation
  • undertaker
  • division of labor