Individual responsiveness to shock and colony-level aggression in honey bees: evidence for a genetic component

Behav Ecol Sociobiol. 2014 May;68(5):761-771. doi: 10.1007/s00265-014-1689-8.


The phenotype of the social group is related to phenotypes of individuals that form that society. We examined how honey bee colony aggressiveness relates to individual response of male drones and foraging workers. Although the natural focus in colony aggression has been on the worker caste, the sterile females engaged in colony maintenance and defense, males carry the same genes. We measured aggressiveness scores of colonies and examined components of individual aggressive behavior in workers and haploid sons of workers from the same colony. We describe for the first time, that males, although they have no stinger, do bend their abdomen (abdominal flexion) in a posture similar to stinging behavior of workers in response to electric shock. Individual worker sting response and movement rates in response to shock were significantly correlated with colony scores. In the case of drones, sons of workers from the same colonies, abdominal flexion significantly correlated but their movement rates did not correlate with colony aggressiveness. Furthermore, the number of workers responding at increasing levels of voltage exhibits a threshold-like response, whereas the drones respond in increasing proportion to shock. We conclude that there are common and caste-specific components to aggressive behavior in honey bees. We discuss implications of these results on social and behavioral regulation and genetics of aggressive response.

Keywords: Abdomen Flexion; Aggression; Drone; Honey bee; Shock; Sting.