Why do some queen bees eat their worker bee's eggs?

Dec 04, 2006
Why do some queen bees eat their worker bee's eggs?
A new study from the American Naturalist finds that honeybee workers’ sons are reared 100 times less in species with a queen mated to multiple males. Credit: Courtesy F. Ratnieks

Worker bees, wasps, and ants are often considered neuter. But in many species they are females with ovaries, who although unable to mate, can lay unfertilized eggs which turn into males if reared. For some species, such as bumble bees, this is the source of many of the males in the species. But in others, like the honeybee, workers "police" each other – killing eggs laid by workers or confronting egg-laying workers.

In 1964 the English biologist William Hamilton put forward his "relatedness hypothesis", a major landmark in kin selection theory. His hypothesis was that worker bees, wasps and ants do not reproduce because most workers are half sisters. Instead the workers favor the queen's male progeny, since she has mated with multiple males, ensuring variation in the species. According to this theory, a species where the mother queen mates with multiple males would have more worker policing. This theory is widespread and in animal behavior textbooks.

However, Hamilton's relatedness hypothesis was challenged in 2004 by researchers from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. They compared 50 species and found no evidence that multiple mating by the queen correlated with reduced rearing of workers' sons or greater worker reproductive policing. Were the textbooks wrong"

A new study appearing in the current issue of The American Naturalist strongly supports Hamilton's original theory. Tom Wenseleers and Francis Ratnieks (University of Sheffield) compared 90 species and found that workers' sons are reared 100 times less in species with a queen mated to multiple males. They also found worker policing by the queen, with the queen eating working-laid eggs, in all species with multiple-mated queens, but in only 20 percent with single-mated queens.

"It seems that the textbooks do not need rewriting," write the authors. "Kin selection theory is important when studying relatedness in social behavior. Social insects, with their great variation in kinship, have been a key test bed of the theory, and the theory has revolutionized our understanding of insect societies."

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: Just like humans, dolphins have social networks

Related Stories

Dinosaur-times cockroach caught in amber, from Myanmar

7 hours ago

Geologica Carpathica has a paper on a new family of predatory cockroaches. Predatory? The authors, Peter Vrsansky and Günter Bechly, from the Slovak Republic and Germany, respectively, said that "unique adapta ...

Comcast must show what's next after collapse of deal

7 hours ago

Comcast, which reports financial results on Monday, faces some tough questions about what's next for the country's biggest cable company after its dreams of a far-reaching network collapsed with the death of its $45 billion ...

Japan eyeing 26% greenhouse gas cut: officials

7 hours ago

Japan is planning to pledge a 26 percent cut in its greenhouse gas emissions from 2013 levels, ahead of a global summit on climate change this year, officials said Friday.

Auditors: National Science Foundation suspends UConn grants

7 hours ago

The National Science Foundation has frozen more than $2 million in grants to the University of Connecticut after a foundation investigation found two professors used grant money to buy products from their own company, Connecticut ...

Recommended for you

Genetics for producing thousands of queen bees

27 minutes ago

Mexico has launched its first Center for Queen Bee Breeding in the center-north state of Aguascalientes, which aims to support productivity for 45 thousand Mexican producers of honey, which last year generated ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.