Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 403–412 | Cite as

Social polymorphism in the Australian small carpenter bee, Ceratina (Neoceratina) australensis

  • S. M. Rehan
  • M. H. Richards
  • M. P. Schwarz
Research Article


The bee tribe Ceratinini provides important insights into the early stages of sociality. Many arthropods exhibit behaviours precursory to social life, including adult longevity, parental care, nest loyalty and mutual tolerance, yet the origins of social behaviour are few. Here we describe the biology of a facultatively social bee, Ceratina (Neoceratina) australensis, which exhibits all of the preadaptations for successful group living, yet presents ecological and behavioural characteristics that seemingly disfavour frequent colony formation. This species is socially polymorphic with both solitary and social nests collected in sympatry. Social colonies consist of two foundresses, one contributing both foraging and reproductive effort and the second which remains at the nest as a passive guard. Cooperative nesting provides no overt reproductive benefits over solitary nesting in this population, although brood survival tends to be greater in social colonies. Maternal longevity, subsociality and bivoltine nesting phenology in this species favour colony formation, while dispersal habits and offspring longevity may inhibit more frequent social nesting in this and other ceratinines.


Ceratinini Facultative social behaviour Reproductive differentiation Small carpenter bees Ceratina 



We wish to thank Sally Harradine for help in the field, Andrew Morse for the colony cycle drawing and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions. This research was supported by an ARC grant to M.P.S., an NSERC grant to M.H.R. and Endeavour and NSERC scholarships to S.M.R.


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesBrock UniversitySt. CatharinesCanada
  2. 2.School of BiologyFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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