Queen retinue

Honey bee queen is usually attended by a group of workers - queen retinue. Older egg laying queens are more attractive to workers than newly mated queens and virgin queens are the least attractive [1]. The workers groom the queen by touching it with their mouthparts, antennae and forelegs. This is sometimes called retinue behaviour. The head and abdomen of the queen are more often touched than the thorax [1]. During winter the contact between the queen and the attending workers is reduced [2].

The workers from the queen retinue feed the queen by trophallaxis. Frequency of feeding is positively correlated with intensity of queen egg laying [3] see also [4]. Observed number of times the queen was fed during one hour was: 2-3 [5], 4.8 [6]. During single bout of feeding the queen is fed by one or two (rarely five) workers [6][7]. The single feeding lasts 47±2.6 seconds [6] 44 seconds [3]. Workers feeding the queen are younger than other attendants [3]. Feeding and licking of the queen is performed more often by workers which spend in the retinue longer time [8]. The retinue workers eat faeces released by the queen.

Number of workers in queen retinue ranges from six to ten [2] and it is smaller in winter than in summer [1]. This number does not differ between night and day [1][9]. There is continuous change of workers in the retinue. Most attendants spend in the retinue less than 30 seconds, but some of them can spend there 41 minutes [3]. Some workers attend the queen on more than one occasion during their lifetime [3]. Workers often stop attending the queen when it starts to move [10][11]. When the queen stays still a worker can attend it for relatively long time [8]. The workers in the retinue are relatively young [3][11][12][13][14], at similar age they perform brood tending task.

Formation of the retinue can be elicited by queen mandibular pheromone (QMP) [10]. Mixture of five components of QMP is particularly important [15]. Tergal glands secretion [16] and Dufour's gland secretion [17] also elicits retinue behaviour in workers. The retinue is formed even around queens with mandibular glands removed [18][10][19]. During grooming of the queen pheromones are transferred from the queen to the workers attending it and later to other workers in the colony [11]. Workers which attended the queen for longer than 30 seconds move rapidly, often antennate nestmates and are often inspected by other workers [11]. This behaviour can be important for transmission of the queen pheromones within the nest. The workers which licked the queen transfer particularly large amount of the QMP [20] see also [21].

The contacts between the queen and the workers attending it can affect health of both the queen and the workers. The workers can infect the queen with Nosema ceranae [22]. Workers infected with Nosema apis are less often observed in the retinue than their healthy nestmates at the same age [23]. The queen can infect the attending workers with Bacillus larvae [24] and Nosema apis [25].

Retinue behaviour is not affected by octopamine treatment [26], acaricides treatment [27] or selection for QMP response [14].


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