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Turning workers into false queens: the role of exogenous pheromones in regulating reproduction in worker honey bees [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Abdullahi A. Yusuf, Robin M. Crewe, and Christian W. W. Pirk

One of the responses that honey bee workers can make in the event of queen loss is to develop into false queens. False queens are workers that exhibit both behavioural and physiological traits similar to those of a true queen. However, the presence of more than one false queen in a colony distorts the established hierarchies. As transformation into a false queen occurs after emergence as an adult, we tested the effect of worker mobile pheromone carriers (PCs) treated with exogenously supplied pheromones on their nestmates. The PCs carried either synthetic mandibular gland pheromones or pheromones extracted from Apis mellifera capensis parasitic workers. Only the PCs attracted retinues of workers, increased pheromone production and activated their ovaries, becoming false queens. Pheromones from A. m. capensis workers were more effective than extracts of commercially available synthetic queen pheromones in eliciting these effects. Using this simple mobile pheromone delivery system, we have shown that carrying amounts of exogenous pheromone can induce pheromone production in the carrier, resulting in the production of false queens within experimental groups. Possible implications of using this technique to modify and regulate worker reproduction in colonies are discussed.

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