Underpinning the formation of a social group is the motivation of individuals to aggregate and interact with conspecifics, termed sociability. Here, we developed an assay, inspired by vertebrate approaches to evaluate social behaviours, to simultaneously examine the development of honey bee (Apis mellifera) sociability and nestmate affiliation. Focal bees were placed in a testing chamber which was separated from groups of nestmates and conspecific nonnestmates by single-layer mesh screens. Assessing how much time bees spent contacting the two mesh screens allowed us to quantify simultaneously how much bees sought proximity and interaction with other bees and their preference for nestmates over non-nestmates. Both sociability and nestmate affiliation could be detected soon after emergence as an adult. Isolation early in adult life impaired honey bee sociability but there was no evidence for a critical period for the development of the trait, as isolated bees exposed to their hive for 24 h when as old as 6 days still recovered high levels of sociability. Our data show that, even for advanced social insects, sociability is a developmental phenomenon and experience dependent.
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- social insect
- group cohesion
- nestmate recognition