Longevity of insects with social castes

From Longevity Wiki

Social insects, such as ants,[1] bees,[2] and termites,[3] have a distinct division of labor among individuals within their colonies. The colony is typically composed of a reproductive queen or queens and non-reproductive worker or soldier castes.[4] Research has shown that there are significant differences in longevity between the queen and worker castes in many social insect species. In general, queens live much longer than workers.[5] For example, queen bee is normally the only female who reproduces, whereas the vast majority of bees are sterile females known as worker bees. Queen honeybees can live for several years, while workers typically only live for several months. [6] In the ant L. niger, queen ants live for 20 to 30 years, workers for 1 to 3 years and males for only a few weeks.[7] This difference in longevity is thought to be related to the different roles that queens and workers play within the colony. Queens are responsible for reproducing and maintaining the colony, so they have evolved to live longer in order to increase their chances of reproducing.[6] In contrast, workers are responsible for foraging for food and caring for the colony's young, so they have evolved to have shorter lifespans as they expend a lot of energy and are more prone to injuries and predation.[6] Additionally, queen ants and bees have a different hormonal regulation that allows them to live longer, they also have a different gene expression profile that increases their resistance to stress, and reduces their metabolism.

The fact that queens live many times longer than workers, despite sharing the same genome, provides a particularly useful model for understanding the epigenetic pathways and mechanisms that influence aging.[5]


Insulin binding protein Imp-L2

Tapeworm-infected ant workers longevity

Parasite infection induces multiple alterations in the adult workers. The survival of infected workers is increased compared to their uninfected nestmates.[8] [9] A parasitic tapeworm greatly lengthens the lives of its ant hosts by secreting a rich cocktail (more than 250 proteins) of antioxidants and other compounds. For most secreted proteins annotated orthologs could not be found, which is indicative of potential novel functions and a long history of adaptation within this species interaction.[10] Moreover, the queens and the infected workers were expressing more of a gene called silver (carboxypeptidase D), but the uninfected workers were not.[9] Researchers previously linked the silver gene to an extended life span in fruit flies.[11][12] However, since infected workers do not engage in foraging outside the nest, they have lower extrinsic mortality similar to queens which also stay inside the nest.[9]


  1. Majoe, M., Libbrecht, R., Foitzik, S., & Nehring, V. (2021). Queen loss increases worker survival in leaf-cutting ants under paraquat-induced oxidative stress. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 376(1823), 20190735. PMID: 33678018 PMCID: PMC7938173 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2019.0735
  2. Shell, W. A., & Rehan, S. M. (2022). Social divergence: molecular pathways underlying castes and longevity in a facultatively eusocial small carpenter bee. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 289(1971), 20212663. PMID: 35317677 PMCID: PMC8941392 (available on 2023-03-30) DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.2663
  3. Li, Y. X., Ye, C. X., Su, J., Nabi, G., Su, X. H., & Xing, L. X. (2022). De Novo Transcriptome Assembly and Analysis of Longevity Genes Using Subterranean Termite (Reticulitermes chinensis) Castes. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 23(21), 13660. PMID: 36362447 PMCID: PMC9657995 DOI: 10.3390/ijms232113660
  4. Opachaloemphan, C., Yan, H., Leibholz, A., Desplan, C., & Reinberg, D. (2018). Recent advances in behavioral (epi) genetics in eusocial insects. Annual review of genetics, 52, 489. PMID: 30208294 PMCID: PMC6445553 DOI: 10.1146/annurev-genet-120116-024456
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sieber, K. R., Dorman, T., Newell, N., & Yan, H. (2021). (Epi) genetic mechanisms underlying the evolutionary success of eusocial insects. Insects, 12(6), 498. PMID: 34071806 PMCID: PMC8229086 DOI: 10.3390/insects12060498
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Remolina, S. C., & Hughes, K. A. (2008). Evolution and mechanisms of long life and high fertility in queen honey bees. Age, 30(2), 177-185.
  7. Jemielity, S., Chapuisat, M., Parker, J. D., & Keller, L. (2005). Long live the queen: studying aging in social insects. Age, 27(3), 241-248. PMID: 23598656 PMCID: PMC3458492 DOI: 10.1007/s11357-005-2916-z
  8. Beros, S., Lenhart, A., Scharf, I., Negroni, M. A., Menzel, F., & Foitzik, S. (2021). Extreme lifespan extension in tapeworm-infected ant workers. Royal Society open science, 8(5), 202118. PMID: 34017599 PMCID: PMC8131941 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.202118
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Stoldt, M., Klein, L., Beros, S., Butter, F., Jongepier, E., Feldmeyer, B., & Foitzik, S. (2021). Parasite presence induces gene expression changes in an ant host related to immunity and longevity. Genes, 12(1), 95. PMID: 33451085 PMCID: PMC7828512 DOI: 10.3390/genes12010095
  10. Hartke, J., Ceron-Noriega, A., Stoldt, M., Sistermans, T., Kever, M., Fuchs, J., ... & Foitzik, S. (2022). What doesn't kill you makes you live longer-Longevity of a social host linked to parasite proteins. bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.12.23.521666
  11. Pauls, D., Hamarat, Y., Trufasu, L., Schendzielorz, T. M., Gramlich, G., Kahnt, J., ... & Wegener, C. (2019). Drosophila carboxypeptidase D (SILVER) is a key enzyme in neuropeptide processing required to maintain locomotor activity levels and survival rate. European Journal of Neuroscience, 50(9), 3502-3519. PMID: 31309630 DOI: 10.1111/ejn.14516
  12. Carnes, M. U., Campbell, T., Huang, W., Butler, D. G., Carbone, M. A., Duncan, L. H., ... & Mackay, T. F. (2015). The genomic basis of postponed senescence in Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS One, 10(9), e0138569. PMID: 26378456 PMC4574564 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0138569