Weak specialization of workers inside a bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) nest

Jennifer M. Jandt, Eden Huang, Anna Dornhaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Division of labor is common across social groups. In social insects, many studies focus on the differentiation of in-nest and foraging workers and/or the division of foraging tasks. Few studies have specifically examined how workers divide in-nest tasks. In the bumble bee, Bombus impatiens, we have shown previously that smaller workers are more likely to feed larvae and incubate brood, whereas larger workers are more likely to fan or guard the nest. Here, we show that in spite of this, B. impatiens workers generally perform multiple tasks throughout their life. The size of this task repertoire size does not depend on body size, nor does it change with age. Further, individuals were more likely to perform the task they had been performing on the previous day than any other task, a pattern most pronounced among individuals who guarded the nest. On the other hand, there was no predictable sequence of task switching. Because workers tend to remain in the same region of the nest over time, in-nest workers may concentrate on a particular task, or subset of tasks, inside that region. This division of space, then, may be an important mechanism that leads to this weak specialization among in-nest bumble bee workers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1829-1836
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Oct 2009


  • Bombus impatiens
  • Bumble bee
  • Division of labor
  • Division of labor index
  • Task repertoire size
  • Task specialization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Weak specialization of workers inside a bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) nest'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this