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Factors influencing survival duration and choice of virgin queens in the stingless bee Melipona quadrifasciata

Abstract

In Melipona quadrifasciata, about 10 % of the females develop into queens, almost all of which are killed. Occasionally, a new queen replaces or supersedes the mother queen or heads a new colony. We investigated virgin queen fate in queenright and queenless colonies to determine the effects of queen behaviour, body mass, nestmate or non-nestmate status, queenright or queenless colony status, and, when queenless, the effect of the time a colony had been queenless, on survival duration and acceptance. None of 220 virgin queens observed in four observation hives ever attacked another virgin queen nor did any of 88 virgin queens introduced into queenright colonies ever attack the resident queen. A new queen was only accepted in a queenless colony. Factors increasing survival duration and acceptance of virgin queens were to emerge from its cell at 2 h of queenlessness, to hide, and to avoid fights with workers. In this way, a virgin queen was more likely to be available when a colony chooses a new queen, 24-48 h after resident queen removal. Running, walking or resting, antennating or trophallaxis, played little or no role, as did the factors body mass or nestmate. “Queen choice” took about 2 h during which time other virgin queens were still being killed by workers. During this agitated process, the bees congregated around the new queen. She inflated her abdomen and some of the workers deposited a substance on internal nest surfaces including the glass lid of the observation hive.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Prof. Paulo Nogueira-Neto for allowing us to stay at Fazenda Aretuzina and for his great hospitality. For advice on statistics and R, we thank Dr. Christoph Grüter, Dr. Francisca Segers, Sam Jones, MSc, and Prof. Jeremy Field. For advice on R graphics, we thank the members of the ggplot2 Google group. MHK gratefully acknowledges funding via a Ph.D. grant (DOC-studentship 22731) from the Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. CM (07/50218-1), DAA (05/58093-8; 10/19717-4), V-LI-F (04/15801-0), and FLWR (06/59115-8) are indebted for funding from FAPESP.

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Correspondence to Martin H. Kärcher.

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Communicated by: Sven Thatje

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Kärcher, M.H., Menezes, C., Alves, D.A. et al. Factors influencing survival duration and choice of virgin queens in the stingless bee Melipona quadrifasciata . Naturwissenschaften 100, 571–580 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-013-1053-2

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Keywords

  • Queen fight
  • Queen supersedure
  • Caste fate
  • Virgin queen
  • Stingless bee
  • Social insect