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Aggressive Behaviour of Apis Mellifera L. Workers Towards Introduced Queens I. Behavioural Mechanisms Involved in the Release of Worker Aggression

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1. A behavioural study was conducted on the mechanism of release of aggressive behaviour of workers towards introduced honey bee queens in small cages in the laboratory. 2. The responses of workers towards queen and vice versa were observed for the first few minutes after introduction, and the worker aggression was determined quantitatively as the percentage of queens rejected (dead, badly crippled or being balled) during a two-hour observation period. 3. Indirect evidence was obtained to indicate that a chemical releaser was produced by the queen under certain stress conditions, which then elicited a mass aggressive behaviour of the workers. The term "stress pheromone" was proposed for this chemical alarm releaser of the queen in order to distinguish it from other alarm pheromones of social insects which generally are given off by workers and/or soldiers. 4. Rough handling of the queen during the amputation of her head or the presence of strange workers examining and threatening the queen provided the necessary stress stimulus for her to produce the stress pheromone. 5. It was possible to induce the queen to produce the stress pheromone by simulating the biting and stinging worker responses experimentally, in the presence of strange workers. 6. It was proposed that the chain of behavioural interactions between the introduced queen and the receiving workers leading to balling of the queen was the result of a sequential exchange of stimuli. 7. The stress pheromone seemed to be very volatile and dissipated almost completely on exposure to air for about six minutes. Continued worker aggression depended upon the continued production of the stress pheromone by the queen. 8. The queen appeared to cease the production of the stress pheromone as soon as she was separated from the attacking workers. 9. The importance of the proposed mechanism of balling of an introduced queen in relation to colony organization is discussed.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Apiculture, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada


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