The Behavioral Genetics of Colony Defense in Honeybees: Genetic Variability for Guarding Behavior

Behav Genet. 1991 May;21(3):295-303. doi: 10.1007/BF01065821.


Guard honeybees stand at the entrance of colonies and facilitate the exclusion of nonnestmates from the colony. In this study, we examined the hypothesis that genetic variability among individuals in colonies might explain variability in guarding activity. To do this, we cross-fostered honey bees between colonies with high-defensive responses and colonies with low-defensive responses in alarm pheromone tests. Individuals from high-defensive colonies were more likely to guard in their own colonies (controls) than cross-fostered bees from low-defensive colonies. Cross-fostered high-defensive bees also were more like to guard in low-defense colonies. These results support the hypothesis that interindividual differences in guarding behavior are at least partially under genetic control. A positive correlation between number of guards and response to alarm pheromone demonstrates a link between behaviorally separated components of the overall defensive response.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Agonistic Behavior*
  • Animals
  • Arousal / genetics*
  • Bees / genetics*
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Pheromones / genetics
  • Territoriality*


  • Pheromones