Behaviour 2019
Social Signals and Hive-Level Aggression Interact To Alter Caretaking Behaviors of Nurse Honey Bees.
Rebecca R. Westwick, Gavin Brackett, Cameron Brown, Bethany Ison, Clare C. Rittschof. University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, United States

Behavioral plasticity is vital to colony function in honey bees (Apis mellifera). This phenomenon is well studied in adults, but why, how, and to what degree larval bees show behavioral plasticity is more of a mystery. For example, the social environment in which a worker honey bee is raised as a larva impacts her aggressive behavior an adult. But how does a larva with limited sensory capabilities perceive the nature of her social environment? I conducted an experiment to test the hypothesis that the social environment acts indirectly on larvae by altering the behavior of nurse bees, individuals who visit and feed developing larvae. I video-recorded nurse bees from hives of different aggression levels performing caretaking behaviors. Additionally, I exposed the nurses to two honey bee social pheromones, alarm pheromone (which adult workers use to recruit sisters for nest defense) and e-β-ocimene (which worker larvae use to signal starvation). My results suggest that pheromones and baseline aggression interact in complex ways to change caretaking behaviors of nurse bees. This research demonstrates that social signals can influence critical parental care behaviors in honey bees.