Behavior and molecular physiology of nurses of worker and queen larvae in honey bees (Apis mellifera)

Xu Jiang He, Liu Qing Tian, Andrew B. Barron, Cui Guan, Hao Liu, Xiao Bo Wu, Zhi Jiang Zeng*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    In a honey bee colony, worker bees rear a new queen by providing her with a larger cell in which to develop and a large amount of richer food (royal jelly). Royal jelly and worker jelly (fed to developing worker larvae) differ in terms of sugar, vitamin, protein and nucleotide composition. Here we examined whether workers attending queen and worker larvae are separate specialized sub-castes of the nurse bees. We collected nurse bees attending queen larvae (AQL) and worker larvae (AWL) and compared gene expression profiles of hypopharyngeal gland tissues, using Solexa/Illumina digital gene expression tag profiling (DGE). Significant differences in gene expression were found that included a disproportionate number of genes involved in glandular secretion and royal jelly synthesis. However behavioral observations showed that these were not two entirely distinct populations. Nurse workers were observed attending both worker larvae and queen larvae, and there was no evidence of a specialized group of workers that preferentially or exclusively attended developing queens. Nevertheless, AQL attended larvae more frequently compared to AWL, suggesting that nurses sampled attending queen larvae may have been the most active nurses. This study serves as another example of the relationship between differences in gene expression and behavioral specialisation in honey bees.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)911-916
    Number of pages6
    JournalJournal of Asia-Pacific Entomology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014


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