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Hovering guards of the stingless bee Tetragonisca angustula increase colony defensive perimeter as shown by intra- and inter-specific comparisons


Social insects need to defend their nest against robbery, parasitism and predation. The stingless bee Tetragonisca angustula is unique in that it has guards that hover near the nest entrance in addition to guards that stand at the entrance. We tested both the general hypothesis that hovering guards increase the effectiveness with which flying intruders are detected and the specific hypothesis that hovering guards improve the detection of workers of the obligate robber bee, Lestrimellita limao. In an intraspecific study comparing colonies, we found a strong positive relationship between the number of hovering guards and the distance at which a dummy robber bee or L. limao worker, experimentally moved towards the nest entrance, was detected. These results were mirrored in an interspecific study showing that four species of stingless bees with similar population colonies but which lacked hovering guards, detected L. limao only at the nest entrance, in contrast to T. angustula. In addition, we found that a greater number of attacks by guards occurred when dummies were impregnated with citral, a major component of L. limao mandibular gland odour. Our results support the hypothesis that T. angustula hovering guards increase the detection perimeter for flying intruders, especially L. limao.

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We thank Dr. Paulo Nogueira-Neto for his hospitality at Fazenda Aretuzina, advice on stingless bee biology, and allowing us to study his colonies. Jonathan Bacon, Tomer Czaczkes, and Cristiano Menezes provided helpful suggestions and logistic support during the study. J.S.v.Z. was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Danish Council for Independent Research (09-066595), C.G. by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation (PBBEP3-123648), and S.M.J. by a doctoral fellowship from the University of Sussex.

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Correspondence to Jelle S. van Zweden.

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Communicated by O. Rueppell

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van Zweden, J.S., Grüter, C., Jones, S.M. et al. Hovering guards of the stingless bee Tetragonisca angustula increase colony defensive perimeter as shown by intra- and inter-specific comparisons. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 65, 1277–1282 (2011).

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  • Nest defence
  • Nestmate recognition
  • Defensive perimeter
  • Robber bees
  • Lestrimelitta limao