The Polyandrous Queen Honey Bee: Biology and Apiculture

The Queen Honey Bee: Introduction, Development, Pheromones, Mating, and Role in the Colony

Author(s): Lovleen Marwaha

Pp: 1-34 (34)

DOI: 10.2174/9789815079128112010002

* (Excluding Mailing and Handling)


 Apis mellifera (2n=32), commonly known as the European honey bee or the Western honey bee, is a eusocial insect. Each honey bee colony is a composite unit of thousands of bees, with three different castes: a polyandrous reproductively active queen; thousands of workers; and a few hundred drones. The queen and the workers represent the female caste that develops from fertilized eggs, whereas the drones are male bees formed from unfertilized or fertilized eggs. In the case of the female honey bees, the phenomenon of polyphenism can be easily highlighted, which is the developmental plasticity of the same genomic contents to express differently as per environmental cues. During the queen larval developmental phase, the exclusive diet is royal jelly, which induces hyper-secretion of juvenile and ecdysone hormones that ultimately cause sequential activation of certain genetic elements, specifically after 3rd instar onward. For the worker honey bee larvae, initially, the diet includes royal jelly exclusively, followed by honey, pollen grains, and worker jelly, which collectively direct development toward the worker caste. Furthermore, for harmonious social interaction, the queen secretes certain volatile chemical bouquets including 9- ODA(2E)-9-oxodecenoic acid), 9-HDA (9-hydroxy-(E)-2-decenoic acid), 10-HDA (10-hrdroxy-2-decenoic acid), HVA (4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenylethanol), HOB (Methyl-p-hydroxybenzoate), 10-HDAA (10-hydroxydecanoic acid), OLA (oligolactide), methyl oleate, decyl decanoate, linolenic acid, coniferyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, etc. The concerned pheromones facilitate the regulation of workers' behavior; workers' ovarian suppression; retinue control; overall worker’s development modulation; colonial product production; swarming tendency; pseudo-queen formation suppression; mating, etc. The queen honey bee is polyandrous, as she mates with many drones during the nuptial flight in 'Drone Congregation Areas (DCA)’, within about 2 weeks of her post-emergence. This chapter provides a comprehensive review of the polyandrous queen honey bee; her synchronous developmental phases; her pheromone dominance; her regulation and coordination of colonies; her mating preference and habits; and her role in a composite hive. Subsequent chapters provide an elaborative view of different aspects of the queen honey bees' life cycle.

Keywords: Developmental Plasticity, Polyphenism and DCA, Queen Honey Bee.

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