Journal Article

Colony size explains the lifespan differences between queens and workers in eusocial Hymenoptera

Kramer, B. H., Schaible, R.

Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 109:3, 710-724 (2013)


Keywords: division of labor, life span


Eusocial Hymenoptera show a unique divergence in lifespan of queens and workers; queens belong to the longest lived insects while workers in most eusocial species have significantly shorter lives. The different phenotypes within a colony emerge through reproductive division of labour, which is a characteristic trait of eusocial animals. Division of labour as a measure of organismal complexity increases with colony size in eusocial species similar to the increase of complexity with size that has been shown for the whole range of living organisms. We show that queen and worker lifespan diverge in closely related species representing the transition from solitary to social life and show that queen and worker lifespan are correlated if colony size is taken into account: with increasing colony size the lifespan differential between queen and worker increases, whereas neither queen nor worker lifespan is associated with colony size. Additionally, the lifespan differential is better explained by colony size than by the weight differences between the castes. The divergence of phenotypes found is in line with the increasing specialization of subunits in larger organisms, which leads to increasing complexity. We argue that division of labour is acting to increase colony efficiency, which in turn shapes the investments made into individuals leading to short-lived workers and long-lived queens. Additionally, maintenance investments may be shaped due to the variable extrinsic risk faced by different castes.