Inter-individual variation in honey bee dance intensity correlates with expression of the foraging gene

Genes Brain Behav. 2020 Jan;19(1):e12592. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12592. Epub 2019 Jul 8.


Individual behavioural differences in responding to the same stimuli is an integral part of division of labour in eusocial insect colonies. Amongst honey bee nectar foragers, individuals strongly differ in their sucrose responsiveness, which correlates with strong differences in behavioural decisions. In this study, we explored whether the mechanisms underlying the regulation of foraging are linked to inter-individual differences in the waggle dance activity of honey bee foragers. We first quantified the variation in dance activity amongst groups of foragers visiting an artificial feeder filled consecutively with different sucrose concentrations. We then determined, for these foragers, the sucrose responsiveness and the brain expression levels of three genes associated with food search and foraging; the foraging gene Amfor, octopamine receptor gene AmoctαR1 and insulin receptor AmInR-2. As expected, foragers showed large inter-individual differences in their dance activity, irrespective of the reward offered at the feeder. The sucrose responsiveness correlated positively with the intensity of the dance activity at the higher reward condition, with the more responsive foragers having a higher intensity of dancing. Out of the three genes tested, Amfor expression significantly correlated with dance activity, with more active dancers having lower expression levels. Our results show that dance and foraging behaviour in honey bees have similar mechanistic underpinnings and supports the hypothesis that the social communication behaviour of honey bees might have evolved by co-opting behavioural modules involved in food search and foraging in solitary insects.

Keywords: eusocial insects; foraging; information communication; insulin receptor; navigation; octopamine; recruitment behaviour; response thresholds; sucrose responsiveness; waggle dance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics*
  • Bees / physiology
  • Biological Variation, Population*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cyclic GMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / genetics*
  • Cyclic GMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Insect Proteins / genetics*
  • Insect Proteins / metabolism
  • Receptor, Insulin / genetics
  • Receptor, Insulin / metabolism
  • Receptors, Biogenic Amine / genetics
  • Receptors, Biogenic Amine / metabolism


  • Insect Proteins
  • Receptors, Biogenic Amine
  • norsynephrine receptor
  • Receptor, Insulin
  • Cyclic GMP-Dependent Protein Kinases