, Volume 97, Issue 3, pp 319–323 | Cite as

The alternative Pharaoh approach: stingless bees mummify beetle parasites alive

  • Mark K. Greco
  • Dorothee Hoffmann
  • Anne Dollin
  • Michael Duncan
  • Robert Spooner-Hart
  • Peter Neumann


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.


Stingless bee Diagnostic radioentomology Beetles Parasites 



We thank Macarthur Diagnostic Imaging for donating time on the CT scanner and for use of their Campbelltown facility.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark K. Greco
    • 1
    • 2
  • Dorothee Hoffmann
    • 3
    • 6
  • Anne Dollin
    • 4
  • Michael Duncan
    • 2
  • Robert Spooner-Hart
    • 2
  • Peter Neumann
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Swiss Bee Research CentreAgroscope Liebefeld-Posieux Research Station ALPBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Centre for Plant and Food Science, School of Natural SciencesUniversity of Western SydneyRichmondAustralia
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyMartin-Luther-Universität Halle-WittenbergHalleGermany
  4. 4.Australian Native Bee Research CentreNorth RichmondAustralia
  5. 5.Department of Zoology and EntomologyRhodes UniversityGrahamstownRepublic of South Africa
  6. 6.KU Leuven, Laboratory of Aquatic Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyLeuvenBelgium

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