Honeybees that get damaged wings become less choosy about the flowers that they visit


The wings of insects get worn as they get older, but the effects on their behaviour of this is largely unstudied. The reason it might be important is that it might affect both how well workers do at collecting nectar and pollen for the colony, and how well plants are pollinated. It might therefore affect the survival of populations of both bees and plants. Previous studies have shown that having worn wings forces bees to flap their wings faster to fly. Therefore there could be increased costs of flight that mean behaviour should change.


We followed honeybees that we individually marked as they foraged on patches of lavender flowers. Wing damage over time appeared to show some effect of positive feedback. That is, it looks like having wing damage makes more wing damage more likely. We found that honeybees with wings that were damaged, either naturally or by experimental manipulation, tended to be less choosy about which flowers they visited. Bees with worn wings tended to visit lower quality flowers than bees with pristine wings. However, wing damage did not seem to affect how long bees stayed on flowers or flying between flowers.


Honeybees are important pollinators of crops and other flowering plants. Therefore their choices about which flowers to visit have implications for crop yield and the future of wild plant populations. Other work has shown that bees wings get worn by collisions with plant parts. So we might expect bees to avoid collisions with plant parts by visiting flowers that are in the open and not surrounded by plant parts. In highly dense crop fields, such a behaviour would reduce the pollination of flowers and so reduce crop yield.


Behavioural ecology

Subject Group

Zoology and Ecology






Posted by

Andrew Higginson

on Tue Aug 29 2017

Article ID


Details of original research article:

Higginson AD, Barnard CJ. Accumulating wing damage affects foraging decisions in honeybees (Apis mellifera L.). Ecological Entomology. 2004;29:52-59.

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