Honeybee workers with higher reproductive potential live longer lives
Social insects, especially honeybees, have received much attention in comparative gerontology because of their peculiar and flexible ageing patterns that differ across genetically similar individuals. The longevity of honeybee individuals varies and depends on patterns of gene expression during development; females developing into reproductive individuals (queens) live longer than facultatively sterile workers. Here, we show that rebel workers, which develop under queenless conditions after swarming and have high reproductive potential, live approximately 4 days longer in hives and approximately 3 days longer in cages than individuals that develop in queenright colonies and have lower reproductive potential; this difference in longevity occurs in both free-flying and caged workers. Moreover, we show that both rebel and normal workers live longer when their ovaries contain more ovarioles. Longer-living rebel workers can benefit the colony because they can fill the generation gap that emerges between workers after queen exchange during swarming. Our findings provide novel evidence that the fecundity of workers in a social insect colony impacts their intrinsic longevity.