What happens if a bee or ant gets lost from its colony?

06 June 2010


If a bee or ant gets lost from its colony will it be taken in by another colony?


We posed this question, with reference to bees, to James Nieh from the University of California at San Diego and, with reference to ants, to Elva Robinson from the University of York... James - Bees do vary in their acceptance of bees by their colonies. In general though the guard bees smell bees that are coming in and if they detect a difference from their colony odour that's significant, they will reject that bee or even try to kill it. So, very often, these bees will be rejected. However, the way that many beekeepers work is they take one colony and they divide it over subsequent years. So in fact, there is a kind of relatedness among these different colonies, and if they are sister colonies, there is a good chance that a lost worker bee will be accepted.

Elva - It does vary depending on how closely [the ant colonies] are related and most ants are very hostile to ants coming in from other colonies. So usually, they would fight and kill that ant. But there are some species of ants which form networks of connected colonies where the colonies bud off and produce new colonies which pretty much stay in contact, so they're colonies made up of lots of different connected nests. So then, an ant that got lost could go into any nest and it would be fine.

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