Hygienic behavior of the honey bee (Apis mellifera) is independent of sucrose responsiveness and foraging ontogeny

Katarzyna Goode, Zachary Huber, Karen A. Mesce, Marla Spivak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Hygienic behavior in honey bees is a behavioral mechanism of disease resistance. Bees bred for hygienic behavior exhibit an increased olfactory sensitivity to odors of diseased brood, which is most likely differentially enhanced in the hygienic line by the modulatory effects of octopamine (OA), a noradrenaline-like neuromodulator. Here, we addressed whether the hygienic behavioral state is linked to other behavioral activities known to be modulated by OA. We specifically asked if, during learning trials, bees from hygienic colonies discriminate better between odors of diseased and healthy brood because of differences in sucrose (reward) response thresholds. This determination had to be tested because sucrose response thresholds are susceptible to OA modulation and may have influenced the honey bee's association of the conditioned stimulus (odor) with the unconditioned stimulus (i.e., the sucrose reward). Because the onset of first foraging is also modulated by OA, we also examined whether bees from hygienic colonies differentially forage at an earlier age compared to bees from non-hygienic colonies. Our study revealed that 1-day- and 15- to 20-day-old bees from the hygienic line do not have lower sucrose response thresholds compared to bees from the non-hygienic lines. In addition, hygienic bees did not forage at an earlier age or forage preferentially for pollen as compared to non-hygienic bees. These results support the idea that OA does not function in honey bees simply to enhance the detection of all chemical cues non-selectively or control related behaviors regardless of their environmental milieu. Our results indicate that the behavioral profile of the hygienic bee is sculpted by multiple factors including genetic, neural, social and environmental systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-397
Number of pages7
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Gary Reuter and Kate Ihle for their assistance with bee colony maintenance and data collection and the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. This study is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. IBN 0319911 awarded to M.S. and K.A.M.

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Associative learning
  • Biogenic amines
  • Neuromodulation
  • Octopamine
  • Olfactory sensitivity


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