Worker body size but not its age influences phototaxis in a bumblebee (Bombus terrestris, L.)


We studied phtototaxis, the directional movement relative to light in the bumblebee Bombus terrestris. We first developed and validated a MATLAB based system enabling reliable high-resolution tracking of a bumblebee relative to a changing LED light source. Our tracking protocol enables us to separate the phototaxis response from simple directional movement, overall levels of locomotor activity, or arousal state. We next used this system to compare the phototactic response of workers varying in their body size, age, or task performance. In all our experiments the bees showed a positive phototaxis. The strength of the phototactic response was influenced by body size but not age, and this effect was significant when the light source was weak. In one of two trials foragers that were larger showed stronger phototactic response than nurses when tested with the weak light source. Taken together, the evidence that phototaxis is associated with size-based division of labor in the bumblebee and with age-related division of labor in the honeybee, lend credence to response threshold models implicating the response to light in the organization of division of labor in cavity dwelling social insect.