Unbalanced fatty acid diets impair discrimination ability of honey bee workers to damaged and healthy brood odors

J Exp Biol. 2022 Apr 1;225(7):jeb244103. doi: 10.1242/jeb.244103. Epub 2022 Apr 7.


Nutrition supports social insect colonies by regulating both individual performance and colony growth. In honey bee colonies, task-related behaviors such as nursing and foraging are partially mediated by nutrition. Young workers (nurses) consume almost all of the pollen in the hive, while foragers consume mostly nectar. Pollen provides vital proteins and lipids, consumed by nurse bees for approximately 1 week post-eclosion. The role that lipids play in the physiology and behavior of adult bees is gaining significant attention. Recent research suggests that diets with balanced ratios of fatty acids increase olfactory learning in honey bees. Olfaction is crucial for young worker bees to perform brood care and cell cleaning behaviors, which is important for hive health and disease control. Thus, we targeted the early adult, pollen-feeding stage to examine how fatty acids affect cognition to hive-relevant odors. We fed young workers (days 0-9) diets balanced or unbalanced in their ratio of essential fatty acids (ω-6:3) sourced from pollen or cooking oils. We then measured their ability to learn healthy and damaged brood odors, as well as their ability to discriminate between the two. Workers fed balanced diets could learn and discriminate between brood odors better than workers fed unbalanced diets. Consumption of both diet types decreased with age, but their cognitive effects remained. These results suggest that diet affects young worker cognitive development, which may affect task-related behaviors and colony hygiene.

Keywords: Cognition; Nutrition; Olfaction; PER; Pollen.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees
  • Diet / veterinary
  • Fatty Acids*
  • Humans
  • Odorants*
  • Plant Nectar
  • Pollen


  • Fatty Acids
  • Plant Nectar