Biogenic amines and division of labor in honey bee colonies

J Comp Physiol A. 1999 May;184(5):471-9. doi: 10.1007/s003590050347.


Brain levels of dopamine, serotonin, and octopamine were measured in relation to both age-related division of labor and inter-individual differences in task specialization independent of age in honey bee colonies. The only differences among similarly aged bees performing different tasks were significantly lower levels of dopamine in food storers than comb builders and significantly lower levels of octopamine in soldiers than foragers, but soldiers also were slightly younger than foragers. Differences associated with age-related division of labor were stronger. Older bees, notably foragers, had significantly higher levels of all three amines than did younger bees working in the hive. Using social manipulations to unlink chronological age and behavioral status, octopamine was found to exhibit the most robust association between behavior and amine level, independent of age. Octopamine levels were significantly lower in normal-age nurses versus precocious foragers and overage nurses versus normal-age foragers, but not different in reverted nurses versus reversion colony foragers. Dopamine levels were significantly lower in normal-age nurses versus precocious foragers, but higher in reverted nurses versus reversion colony foragers. Serotonin levels did not differ in any of these comparisons. These correlative results suggest that octopamine is involved in the regulation of age-related division of labor in honey bees.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / psychology
  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Biogenic Amines / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Octopamine / metabolism
  • Octopamine / physiology
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Serotonin / physiology


  • Biogenic Amines
  • Octopamine
  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine