The alternative Pharaoh approach: stingless bees mummify beetle parasites alive
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- Greco, M.K., Hoffmann, D., Dollin, A. et al. Naturwissenschaften (2010) 97: 319. doi:10.1007/s00114-009-0631-9
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Workers from social insect colonies use different defence strategies to combat invaders. Nevertheless, some parasitic species are able to bypass colony defences. In particular, some beetle nest invaders cannot be killed or removed by workers of social bees, thus creating the need for alternative social defence strategies to ensure colony survival. Here we show, using diagnostic radioentomology, that stingless bee workers (Trigona carbonaria) immediately mummify invading adult small hive beetles (Aethina tumida) alive by coating them with a mixture of resin, wax and mud, thereby preventing severe damage to the colony. In sharp contrast to the responses of honeybee and bumblebee colonies, the rapid live mummification strategy of T. carbonaria effectively prevents beetle advancements and removes their ability to reproduce. The convergent evolution of mummification in stingless bees and encapsulation in honeybees is another striking example of co-evolution between insect societies and their parasites.