Pathogen-associated self-medication behavior in the honeybee Apis mellifera

Honeybees, Apis mellifera, have several prophylactic disease defense strategies, including the foraging of antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral compounds of plant products. Hence, honey and pollen contain many compounds that prevent fungal and bacterial growth and inhibit viral replication. Since these compounds are also fed to the larvae by nurse bees, they play a central role for colony health inside the hive. Here, we show that honeybee nurse bees, infected with the microsporidian gut parasite Nosema ceranae, show different preferences for various types of honeys in a simultaneous choice test. Infected workers preferred honeys with a higher antibiotic activity that reduced the microsporidian infection after the consumption of the honey. Since nurse bees feed not only the larvae but also other colony members, this behavior might be a highly adaptive form of therapeutic medication at both the individual and the colony level.


Gherman BI, Denner A, Bobiş O, Dezmirean DS, Mărghitaş LA, Schlüns H, Moritz RFA, Erler S (2014) Pathogen-associated self-medication behavior in the honeybee Apis mellifera. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 68(11): 1777-1784. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-014-1786-8