Aggressive reproductive competition among hopelessly queenless honeybee workers triggered by pheromone signaling

O. Malka*, S. Shnieor, T. Katzav-Gozansky, A. Hefetz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


In the honeybee, Apis mellifera, the queen monopolizes reproduction, while the sterile workers cooperate harmoniously in nest maintenance. However, under queenless (QL) conditions, cooperation collapses and reproductive competition among workers ensues. This is mediated through aggression and worker oviposition, as well as shifts in pheromones, from worker to queen-like composition. Many studies suggest a dichotomy between conflict resolution through aggression or through pheromonal signaling. In this paper, we demonstrate that both phenomena comprise essential components of reproductive competition and that pheromone signaling actually triggers the onset of aggression. We kept workers as QL groups until first aggression was observed and subsequently determined the contestants' reproductive status and content of the mandibular (MG) and Dufour's glands (DG). In groups in which aggression occurred early, the attacked bee had consistently more queen-like pheromone in both the MG and DG, although both contestants had undeveloped ovaries. In groups with late aggression, the attacked bee had consistently larger oocytes and more queen-like pheromone in the DG, but not the MG. We suggest that at early stages of competition, the MG secretion is utilized to establish dominance and that the DG provides an honest fertility signal. We further argue that it is the higher amount of DG pheromone that triggers aggression.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)553-559
Number of pages7
JournalDie Naturwissenschaften
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments This research was supported by The Israel Science Foundation founded by the Israel Academy of Sciences (ISF grant # 720/04). We thank Tovit Simon and Shani Inbar for their technical assistance, Josef Kamer and Haim Efrat from the Tzrifin Apiary for assistance in establishing the experimental hives, and Naomi Paz for editorial assistance.


  • Aggression
  • Dominancy
  • Dufour's gland
  • Fertility
  • Honeybee
  • Mandibular glands


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