Group nesting and individual variation in behavior and physiology in the orchid bee Euglossa nigropilosa Moure (Hymenoptera, Apidae)
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- Otero, J.T., Ulloa-Chacón, P., Silverstone-Sopkin, P. et al. Insect. Soc. (2008) 55: 320. doi:10.1007/s00040-008-1009-2
The Euglossini are a key group for studying the traits that promote or hinder highly social behavior in bees because it is the only tribe in the Apine clade without large colonies or females with distinct life histories, e.g. queens and workers. There have been few studies on behavior of orchid bee females in nests because these nests are not found easily. Taking advantage of the relatively high abundance of Eg. nigropilosa nests at Reserva Natural La Planada, Colombia, we examined social behavior of Eg. nigropilosa individuals in five nests (3 original and 2 reused) for nine months. We report this species to have the largest colonies known for Euglossa, with nests reaching up to 22 individuals, and all nests containing more than one female bee from the same generation. These nests presented many traits that correspond to communal insect colonies. No generational overlap and no cooperative brood care were detected. We examined natural enemies and resource limitation as important factors for group nesting. We examined parasitoid attacks to cells in a nest with females and one without females. We also searched for nesting locations and examined nest re-use as indicators of nest site limitation. Lastly, we examined behavioral and physiological differences among females in the same nest. Such differences could be the bases for evolution of alternative life histories among group living females. We examined extent of ovary development and oviposition rates in similarly aged females in the same nest. We found large variation in reproductive effort of young females. We also examined differences in resin foraging and cell usurpation behaviors. Behavioral specialization was observed, with some individuals bringing only resin to the nest. Inside the nests, bees had territories in which they constructed and defended cells. This territoriality may be a defense against usurpation of provisioned cells by nest mates.