Long Live the Queen's Eggs

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Science  18 Jun 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5678, pp. 1719
DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5678.1719c

In many social insects, workers as well as queens are capable of producing eggs. In honeybees, worker-laid eggs, all of which are parthenogenetic males, are usually removed from the nest by other workers. This behavior, known as worker policing, has become a well-known example of kin selection: Workers would tend to be more closely related to the queen's sons than to the sons of other workers, and hence policing would be adaptive. This conclusion had been supported by in vitro studies indicating that the viabilities of worker- and queen-produced eggs were similar. However, Pirk et al. have found that worker-produced eggs have lower viability under natural conditions in the nest. Thus, a more parsimonious explanation for worker policing could be that the workers are simply discriminating between live and dead eggs. — AMS

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 101, 8649 (2004).

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