Social modulation of stinging behaviour in honeybees

Honeybees defend their nest against large predators thanks to a collective effort to harass and sting the intruder. The stinger apparatus has evolved to detach upon stinging elastic skin (such as ours) to maximize venom delivery, but the drawback is that the mutilated bee will then die within a few hours. Thus, the honeybee colony under threat has to achieve a delicate balance: enough bees need to respond that the intruder is successfully deterred, but without unnecessarily depleting the colony of its workforce. What are the mechanisms regulating the decision of each individual to engage or not into this collective response, so that this balance is reached? We propose that honeybees integrate information about the behaviour of their nestmates (social feedback) to fine tune their own response. The aim of this project is to study both the behavioural and the neurobiological bases of this regulatory mechanism.

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