Ontogeny of worker body size distribution in bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) colonies

Margaret J. Couvillon, Jennifer M. Jandt, Nhi Duong, Anna Dornhaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


1. Bumble bees exhibit worker size polymorphisms; highly related workers within a colony may vary up to 10-fold in body mass. As size variation is an important life history feature in bumble bees, the distribution of body sizes within the colony and how it fluctuates over the colony cycle were analysed. 2. Ten commercially purchased colonies of Bombus impatiens (Cresson) were reared in ad libitum conditions. The size of all workers present and newly emerging workers (callows) was recorded each week. 3. The average size of bumble bee workers did not change with colony age, but variation in body size tended to decrease over time. The average size of callows did not change with population size, but did tend to decrease with colony age. In all measures, there was considerable variation among colonies. 4. Colonies of B. impatiens usually produced workers with normally distributed body sizes throughout the colony life cycle. Unlike most polymorphic ants, there was no increase in worker body size with colony age or colony size. This provides the first, quantitative data on the ontogeny of bumble bee worker size distribution. The potential adaptive significance of this size variation is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)424-435
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Entomology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2010


  • Bombus impatiens
  • Bumble bees
  • Polymorphism
  • Size distribution
  • Social insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Insect Science


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