Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 1, pp 1–12 | Cite as

The role of wax and resin in the nestmate recognition system of a stingless bee, Tetragonisca angustula

  • Sam M. Jones
  • Jelle S. van Zweden
  • Christoph Grüter
  • Cristiano Menezes
  • Denise A. Alves
  • Patrícia Nunes-Silva
  • Tomer Czaczkes
  • Vera L. Imperatriz-Fonseca
  • Francis L. W. Ratnieks
Original Paper


Recent research has shown that entrance guards of the stingless bee Tetragonisca angustula make less errors in distinguishing nestmates from non-nestmates than all other bee species studied to date, but how they achieve this is unknown. We performed four experiments to investigate nestmate recognition by entrance guards in T. angustula. We first investigated the effect of colony odours on acceptance. Nestmates that acquired odour from non-nestmate workers were 63% more likely to be rejected while the acceptance rate of non-nestmates treated with nestmate odour increased by only 7%. We further hypothesised that guards standing on the wax entrance tube might use the tube as an odour referent. However, our findings showed that there was no difference in the acceptance of non-nestmates by guards standing on their own colony’s entrance tube versus the non-nestmate’s entrance tube. Moreover, treatment of bees with nestmate and non-nestmate resin or wax had a negative effect on acceptance rates of up to 65%, regardless of the origin of the wax or resin. The role of resin as a source of recognition cues was further investigated by unidirectionally transferring resin stores between colonies. Acceptance rates of nestmates declined by 37% for hives that donated resin, contrasting with resin donor hives where acceptance of non-nestmates increased by 21%. Overall, our results confirm the accuracy of nestmate recognition in T. angustula and reject the hypothesis that this high level of accuracy is due to the use of the wax entrance tubes as a referent for colony odour. Our findings also suggest that odours directly acquired from resin serve no primary function as nestmate recognition cues. The lack of consistency among colonies plus the complex results of the third and fourth experiments highlight the need for further research on the role of nest materials and cuticular profiles in understanding nestmate recognition in T. angustula.


Jataí Meliponini Stingless bees Recognition template Nestmate recognition 



We thank Dr. Paulo Noguiera-Neto for his hospitality at Fazenda Aretuzina and giving us permission to manipulate and study his bee colonies. We also thank Dr. Margaret Couvillon, Associate Editor, Dr William Hughes and anonymous referees for their comments and criticisms. S.M.J. was funded by a GTA grant from the University of Sussex. J.S.v.Z. was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Danish Council for Independent Research (09066595) and C.G. by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF grant PBBEP3-123648). T.C. was supported by a Ph.D. studentship from BBSRC. FAPESP provided funding for C.M. (07/50218-1), D.A.A. (05/58093-8; 10/19717-4), P.N.S (07/03864-5), V.L.I.F. (04/15801-0) and F.L.W.R (08/57782-2).

Supplementary material

265_2011_1246_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (661 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 660 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sam M. Jones
    • 1
  • Jelle S. van Zweden
    • 1
    • 4
  • Christoph Grüter
    • 1
  • Cristiano Menezes
    • 2
    • 5
  • Denise A. Alves
    • 2
    • 3
  • Patrícia Nunes-Silva
    • 2
  • Tomer Czaczkes
    • 1
  • Vera L. Imperatriz-Fonseca
    • 2
    • 6
  • Francis L. W. Ratnieks
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, School of Life SciencesUniversity of SussexBrightonUK
  2. 2.Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras de Ribeirão PretoUSPRibeirão PretoBrazil
  3. 3.Departamento de Ecologia, Instituto de BiociênciasUSPSão PauloBrazil
  4. 4.Centre for Social EvolutionUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  5. 5.Embrapa Amazônia OrientalBelémBrazil
  6. 6.Universidade Federal Rural do SemiáridoMossoróBrazil

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