The Lifespan of Queens and Drones

In comparison to workers, little is known about the life history of drones and queens, including the determinants of their lifespan. This is particularly true with regard to mechanistic, causative studies. The lack of research effort can be explained in part by practical considerations (only workers are abundantly available all year), but it is particularly challenging because much of the appeal of the honeybee model in aging research hinges on intraspecific comparisons.

Drone life history dramatically differs from the patterns described above for workers. These males lead a quasi-solitary life (in a social environment), as they do not actively integrate in any colony-level activities. No social influences on their life history have been demonstrated, even though some of the underlying hormonal controls (e.g., JH) may be identical to workers (Giray and Robinson, 1996). The overall mortality pattern of drones is similar to that of workers in midreproductive season (Rueppell et al., 2005), and their lifespan does not significantly exceed that of workers (reviewed by Page and Peng, 2001). Due to their flight activity, the external mortality risks of drones are similar to workers: predation, misorientation, exhaustion, and other environmental hazards (e.g., rain). Mortality risk increases during their flight tenure, as in workers, probably due to wear and tear, but drones also seem to age without fulfilling any significant task before their onset of flight (Rueppell et al., 2005).

No significant demographic data exist on queens for three reasons. Large data sets require a disproportionate experimental effort since only one queen exists in each colony. Moreover, queens are long-lived. Finally, the lifespan of queens may be socially controlled (reviewed by Page and Peng, 2001), and it is difficult to distinguish a swarming event from replacement of the old queen by a daughter (supersedure). Longevity records demonstrate a much higher potential lifespan for queens than for either workers or drones. Their lifespan regularly exceeds one year, and maximal reported queen longevity is above eight years (reviewed by Page and Peng, 2001). This pronounced lifespan extension in social insect queens relative to solitary insects is general and associated with low external mortality and thus favors the evolutionary theory of aging over purely mechanistic explanations (Keller and Genoud, 1997).

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