Research Article

Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 56, Issue 3, pp 241-249

First online:

Single mating in orchid bees (Euglossa, Apinae): implications for mate choice and social evolution

  • Y. ZimmermannAffiliated withDepartment of Neurobiology, University of DüsseldorfInstitut für Neurobiologie, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf Email author 
  • , D. W. RoubikAffiliated withSmithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  • , J. J. G. Quezada-EuanAffiliated withDepartamento de Apicultura, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán
  • , R. J. PaxtonAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast
  • , T. EltzAffiliated withDepartment of Neurobiology, University of Düsseldorf

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Neotropical orchid bees (Euglossini) are conspicuously different from other corbiculate bees (Apinae) in their lack of advanced sociality and in male use of acquired odors (fragrances) as pheromone-analogues. In both contexts, orchid bee mating systems, in particular the number of males a female mates with, are of great interest but are currently unknown. To assess female mating frequency in the genus Euglossa, we obtained nests from three species in Mexico and Panama and genotyped mothers and their brood at microsatellite DNA loci. In 26 out of 29 nests, genotypes of female brood were fully consistent with being descended from a singly mated mother. In nests with more than one adult female present, those adult females were frequently related, with genotypes being consistent with full sister–sister (r = 0.75) or mother–daughter (r = 0.5) relationships. Thus, our genetic data support the notions of female philopatry and nest-reuse in the genus Euglossa. Theoretically, single mating should promote the evolution of eusociality by maximizing the relatedness among individuals in a nest. However, in Euglossini this genetic incentive has not led to the formation of eusocial colonies as in other corbiculate bees, presumably due to differing ecological or physiological selective regimes. Finally, monandry in orchid bees is in agreement with the theory that females select a single best mate based on the male fragrance phenotype, which may contain information on male age, cognitive ability, and competitive strength.


Euglossini Mating frequency Mate choice Microsatellites Sociality Corbiculate bees