In many social insects, including bumblebees, the division of labor between workers relates to body size, but little is known about the factors influencing larval development and final size. We confirmed and extend the evidence that in the bumblebee Bombus terrestris the adult bee body size is positively correlated with colony age. We next performed cross-fostering experiments in which eggs were switched between incipient (before worker emergence) and later stage colonies with workers. The introduced eggs developed into adults similar in size to their unrelated nestmates and not to their same-age full sisters developing in their mother colony. Detailed observations revealed that brood tending by the queen decreases, but does not cease, in young colonies with workers. We next showed that both worker number and the queen presence influenced the final size of the developing brood, but only the queen influence was mediated by shortening developmental time. In colonies separated by a queen excluder, brood developmental time was shorter in the queenright compartment. These findings suggest that differences in body size are regulated by the brood interactions with the queen and workers, and not by factors inside the eggs that could vary along with colony development. Finally, we developed a model showing that the typical increase in worker number and the decrease in brood contact with the queen can account for the typical increase in body size. Similar self-organized social regulation of brood development may contribute to the optimization of growth and reproduction in additional social insects.
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Acknowledgments This work was supported by research grants from the US–Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF #2007465), and the US–Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD #IS-4418-11R) to GB and the “Hoffman Leadership and Responsibility” fellowship to HS. We thank two anonymous reviewers for providing helpful comments on a previous version of this manuscript.
- Bombus terrestris
- Caste determination
- Division of labor
- Size determination