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First report of hovering guard bees of the Paleotropical stingless bee Tetrigona apicalis (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Meliponini)

  • Michael BurgettEmail author
  • Panuphan Sangjaroen
  • Janjira Yavilat
  • Bajaree Chuttong
Original article


For eusocial bees, colony defense is paramount. An uncommon strategy is the deployment of hovering guard bees, which has been previously described for only a few species of Neotropical meliponines. This report describes the use of flying guards for the Paleotropical stingless bee species Tetrigona apicalis (Smith) which is the first known species in the region to incorporate this defense strategy. The first appearance of hovering guards occurs ca. 0800, and the number of guards increases until an assemblage of ca. several to 25 guards is formed within an hour of the first appearance of a flying guard. The cloud of hovering guards remains throughout the day until dusk and has a continuous presence unless interrupted by rain. The group hovers in front of the entrance tube out to a distance of 10 to 35 cm with the guards facing the entrance tube. The length of time an individual hovering guard bee spends in flight averaged 17 min 52 s ± 18 min 2 s. The longest hovering flight was 1 h 48 min 46 s. This compares to a reported guard flight time of ca. 58 min for the Neotropical meliponine Tetragonisca angustula, the only other stingless bee species where flying guard flight times have been investigated.


flying guard bees Tetrigona apicalis length of hovering flight 



We thank Ms. Nadchawan Charoenlertthanakit of the Chiang Mai University Department of Landscape Design for permission to use her art work (Figure 1). We also thank Ms. Lakkhika Panyaraksa from the Science and Technology Research Institute for her assistance in providing biometric data.

Authors’ contribution

MB and BC conceived the research. PS and JY performed the bulk of the observations and video review of flight times and interpretation of data. MB and BC wrote the first draft and all authors contributed in manuscript revisions. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© INRA, DIB and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HorticultureOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Entomology and Plant PathologyChiang Mai UniversityChiang MaiThailand
  3. 3.Science and Technology Research InstituteChiang Mai UniversityChiang MaiThailand

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