Reversible royalty in worker honeybees (Apis mellifera) under the queen influence

Osnat Malka*, Shiri Shnieor, Abraham Hefetz, Tamar Katzav-Gozansky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


In most social insects, worker sterility is reversible, and in the absence of the queen, at least some workers develop ovaries and lay male-destined eggs. In the honeybee, reproductive workers also produce queen-characteristic mandibular and Dufour's pheromones. The evolution of worker sterility is still under debate as to whether it is caused by queen manipulation (queen-control hypothesis) or represents worker fitness maximization (worker-control hypothesis). In this study, we investigated whether worker fertility and royal pheromone production are reversible under the queen influence. To that effect, we induced ovary activation and queen pheromone production in workers by rearing them as queenless (QL) groups. These workers were subsequently reintroduced into queenright (QR) microcolonies for 1 week, and their ovary status and queen pheromone levels were monitored. Workers reintroduced into QR, but not QL colonies, showed a clear regression in ovary development and levels of the queen pheromones. This is the first demonstration that worker sterility and/or fertility is reversible and is influenced by the queen. These results also emphasize the robustness of the coupling between ovary activation and royal pheromone production, as well as lending credence to the queen-control hypothesis. The dynamics of queen pheromone production in QL workers supports the role of Dufour's gland pheromone as a fertility signal and that of the mandibular gland pheromone in dominance hierarchies.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)465-473
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 2007
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This research was supported by The Israel Science Foundation founded by the Israel Academy of Sciences (ISF grant #720/04 to Abraham Hefetz). We thank Armin Ionescu for his statistical help, Tovit Simon for the technical help, Josef Kamer and Haim Efrat from Tzriffin Apiary for the assistance in establishing experimental hives, and Naomi Paz for the editorial assistance. All experiments complied with the current laws of Israel.


  • Dufour's gland
  • Fertility reversion
  • Honeybee
  • Mandibular glands
  • Queen-worker conflict


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