Mouth-to-mouth food exchange in eusocial insects (trophallaxis) contributes to the organization of complex social activities. In the case of honeybees, foragers returning from a nectar source transfer the food collected to receiver colony-mates through oral contact. Previous studies have shown that the speed of nectar transfer within each contact (unloading rate) increases when foragers return from feeding sites with higher profitability, i.e. with more concentrated sugar solutions or higher solution flow rates. However, there is no evidence that the nectar unloading rate is actually evaluated by hive-mates during food exchange. To investigate this, trophallaxis between donor bees returning from a feeder with different flow rates of sucrose solution (range 1.0-8.2 microl min(−1) of 50% w/w sucrose solution) and receiver hive-mates was studied by combining behavioural and infrared thermal analysis. The results show that when foraging bees returned from a feeder delivering a higher flow rate they initiated unloading at higher thoracic temperatures and transferred the solution at higher speed. During these food exchanges, the thoraces of receiver bees warmed up faster in proportion to increasing forager temperature and unloading rate. Therefore, whatever the variable actually evaluated by receivers (mostly nectar processors, i.e. bees that handle nectar in the hive) during trophallaxis (unloading rate and/or donor thoracic temperature), they raised their activity level in proportion to that of the foragers. In this way, receiver bees will intensify their nectar processing when nectar foragers return from more profitable sites.

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