Phat Queens Emerge Fashionably Late: Body Size and Condition Predict Timing of Spring Emergence for Queen Bumble Bees

Ellen Keaveny, Michael Dillon

Published: September 24, 2022


For insects, the timing of many life history events (phenology) depends on temperature cues. Body size is a critical mediator of insect responses to temperature, so may also influence phenology. The determinants of spring emergence of bumble bee queens are not well understood, but body size is likely important for several reasons. In fall, queens accumulate energy stores to fuel overwinter survival. Accumulation of fat stores prior to and depletion of fat stores during overwintering are likely size-dependent: larger queens can accumulate more lipids and have lower mass-specific metabolic rates. Therefore, larger queens and queens in relatively better condition may have delayed depletion of energy stores, allowing for later spring emergence. To test whether timing of spring emergence is associated with body size and condition, we captured 295 Bombus huntii queens in Laramie, WY, during the 2020 and 2021 growing seasons, weighed them, and measured intertegular width (a size metric unaffected by variation in feeding and hydration state). Early emerging queens were smaller than later emerging queens across years. Mass relative to intertegular width increased as the season progressed suggesting, as predicted, that body condition influences the timing of spring emergence for these crucial pollinators.

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