Trophallaxis in the honeybee Apis mellifera (L.): the interaction between flow of solution and sucrose concentration of the exploited food sources

Anim Behav. 2000 Jun;59(6):1177-1185. doi: 10.1006/anbe.1999.1418.


Forager bees arriving at the hive after visiting a nectar source, unload the collected liquid food to recipient hivemates through mouth-to-mouth contact (trophallaxis). We analysed whether the main characteristics that define nectar in energetic terms, that is, rate of production (flow of solution), sucrose concentration and rate of sucrose production (sucrose flow) influence trophallactic behaviour. Individual bees trained to feed at a regulated-flow feeder offering sucrose solution were captured once the foraging visit was complete and placed in an acrylic arena with a recipient bee that had not been fed. The rate at which liquid was transferred during the subsequent trophallactic contact (transfer rate) was analysed as a function of the different solution flows and sucrose concentrations offered at the feeder. A relationship was found between transfer rate during trophallaxis and the flow of solution previously presented at the feeder. This relationship was independent of sucrose concentration when above a certain threshold value (ca. 22% weight on weight). We also analysed whether the rate of sucrose deliverance of the food source (sucrose flow) influenced the rate at which the solution was transferred. No clear relationship was found between the rate of sucrose deliverance during trophallactic events (sucrose transfer rate) and the sucrose flow presented at the feeder. The possibility that trophallaxis could be a communication channel through which quantitative information on food source profitability is transmitted among hivemates is discussed. Copyright 2000 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.