Defensive Behavior of Honey Bees: Organization, Genetics, and Comparisons With Other Bees

Annu Rev Entomol. 2004;49:271-98. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ento.49.061802.123155.


One key advantage of eusociality is shared defense of the nest, brood, and stored food; nest defense plays an important role in the biology of eusocial bees. Recent studies on honey bees, Apis mellifera, have focused on the placement of defensive activity in the overall scheme of division of labor, showing that guard bees play a unique and important role in colony defense. Alarm pheromones function in integrating defensive responses; honey bee alarm pheromone is an excellent example of a multicomponent pheromonal blend. The genetic regulation of defensive behavior is now better understood from the mapping of quantitative trait loci (QTLs) associated with variation in defensiveness. Colony defense in other eusocial bees is less well understood, but enough information is available to provide interesting comparisons between A. mellifera and other species of Apis, as well as with allodapine, halictine, bombine, and meliponine bees. These comparative studies illustrate the wide variety of evolutionary solutions to problems in colony defense in the Apoidea.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agonistic Behavior
  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal* / physiology
  • Biological Evolution
  • Female
  • Male
  • Pheromones / physiology
  • Quantitative Trait Loci*
  • Social Behavior


  • Pheromones