The adult lifespan of the female honey bee (Apis mellifera): Metabolic rate, AGE pigment and the effect of dietary fatty acids

Publication Name

Mechanisms of Ageing and Development


Female honey bees can be queens or workers and although genetically identical, workers have an adult lifespan of weeks while queens can live for years. The mechanisms underlying this extraordinary difference remain unknown. This study examines three potential explanations of the queen-worker lifespan difference. Metabolic rates were similar in age-matched queens and workers and thus are not an explanation. The accumulation of fluorescent AGE pigment has been successfully used as a good measure of cellular senescence in many species. Unlike other animals, AGE pigment level reduced during adult life of queens and workers. This unusual finding suggests female honey bees can either modify, or remove from their body, AGE pigment. Another queen-worker difference is that, as adults, workers eat pollen but queens do not. Pollen is a source of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Its consumption explains the queen-worker difference in membrane fat composition of female adult honey bees which has previously been suggested as a cause of the lifespan difference. We were able to produce “queen-worker” membrane differences in workers by manipulation of diet that did not change worker lifespan and we can, thus, also rule out pollen consumption by workers as an explanation of the dramatic queen-worker lifespan difference.

Open Access Status

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Article Number


Funding Sponsor

Australian Research Council



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