, Volume 137, Issue 1, pp 42–50 | Cite as

Thermal constraints for stingless bee foragers: the importance of body size and coloration

  • J. J. M. Pereboom
  • J. C. Biesmeijer


In the dry tropics, foraging bees face significant thermal constraints as a result of high ambient temperatures and direct insolation. In order to determine the potential importance of body size and body coloration in heat gain and heat loss, passive warm-up and cooling rates were measured for freshly killed workers of 24 stingless bee species. Results accorded with biophysical principles. Small bees reached lower temperature excesses (Texc) and warmed up and lost heat much more rapidly than larger bees. In addition to body size, body coloration had a clear effect on thermal parameters. Light-coloured bees warmed up less rapidly and had lower Texc than dark bees. An intraspecific comparison of Melipona costaricensis and Cephalotrigona capitata colour morphs confirmed that body coloration influences thermal characteristics. This study is the first to indicate that abdominal coloration in stingless bees might be involved in the regulation of body temperature in extreme thermal conditions. However, body temperatures of foraging bees of colour morphs were not very different. This is probably due to behavioural adaptations (e.g. foraging strategies) or differences in convective and evaporative heat loss or the production of metabolic heat during flight, that all mask the effect of body colour. Notwithstanding such effects and potential thermoregulatory capabilities, stingless bees show niche differentiation and biogeographic distributions that correlate with body coloration and body size. This also suggests that, in general, light bees have an advantage over black bees in hot open lowland habitats, whereas black bees might have an advantage in wet habitats and mountains. The origin, occurrence and function of flavinism (yellow integument colouring) are discussed.


Thermoregulation Melanism Niche partitioning Biogeography Flavinism 



We thank Nydia, Luis Alberto and family for their friendship and hospitality, and Miguel Soto of ARBOFILIA for allowing us to use his bees. We would also like to thank Marie José Duchateau for loans of equipment, David Roubik, Jorge Lobo, and Dirk Jan Ronhaar for information on stingless bee biogeography, and one anonymous reviewer for comments on the manuscript.


  1. Armbruster WS, McCormick KD (1990) Diel foraging patterns of male euglossine bees: ecological causes and evolutionary response by plants. Biotropica 22:160–171Google Scholar
  2. Ayala R (1999) Revisión de las abejas sin aguijón de México (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Meliponini). Folia Entomol Mex 106:1–123Google Scholar
  3. Biesmeijer JC (1997) The organisation of foraging in stingless bees of the genus Melipona; an individual-oriented approach. PhD dissertation, Utrecht UniversityGoogle Scholar
  4. Biesmeijer JC, Smeets M, Richter JAP, Sommeijer MJ (1999a) Nectar foraging by stingless bees in Costa Rica: botanical and climatological influences on sugar concentration of nectar collected by Melipona. Apidologie 30:1–13Google Scholar
  5. Biesmeijer JC, Richter JAP, Smeets M, Sommeijer MJ (1999b) Nectar foraging by two species of Melipona in Costa Rica: I Niche differentiation at patch level. Ecol Entomol 24:380–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bishop JA, Armbruster WS (1999) Thermoregulatory abilities of Alaskan bees: effects of size, phylogeny and ecology. Funct Ecol 13:711–724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chappel MA (1984) Temperature regulation and energetics of the solitary bee Centris pallida during foraging and intermale mate competition. Physiol Zool 57:215–225Google Scholar
  8. Digby PSB (1955) Factors affecting the temperature excess of insects in sunshine. J Exp Biol 32:279–298Google Scholar
  9. Dyer FF, Seeley TD (1987) Interspecific comparisons of endothermy in honeybees (Apis): deviations from the expected size-related patterns. J Exp Biol 217:1–26Google Scholar
  10. Heinrich B (1980) Mechanisms of body-temperature regulation in honeybees, Apis mellifera. II Regulation of thoracic temperature at high air temperatures. J Exp Biol 85:73–87Google Scholar
  11. Heinrich B (1993) The hot-blooded insects. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Majerus MEN (1998) Melanism. Oxford University Press, Oxford Google Scholar
  13. Michener CD (2000) The bees of the world. John Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  14. Purvis A, Rambaut A (1995) Comparative analysis by independent contrasts (CAIC): an Apple Macintosh application for analysing comparative data. CABIOS 11:247–251PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Roberts SP, Harrison JF (1999) Mechanisms of thermal stability during flight in the honeybee Apis mellifera. J Exp Biol 202:1523–1533PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Roubik DW (1992) Stingless bees (Apidae: Meliponinae): a guide to Panamanian and Mesoamerican species and their nests. In: Quintero D, Aiello A (eds) Insects of Panama and Mesoamerica—selected studies, Oxford University Press, Oxford Google Scholar
  17. Roubik DW, Yanega D, Aluja SM, Buchmann SL, Inouye DW (1995) On optimal nectar foraging by some tropical bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Apidologie 26:197–211Google Scholar
  18. Sakagami SF, Inoue T (1985) Taxonomic notes on three bicolorous Tetragonula stingless bees in Southeast Asia. Kontyû 53:174–189Google Scholar
  19. Sakagami SF, Inoue T, Yamane S, Salmah S (1983) Nest architecture and colony composition of the Sumatran stingless bee Trigona (Tetragonula) laeviceps. Kontyu 51:100–111Google Scholar
  20. Salmah S, Inoue T, Sakagami SF (1984) Relationship between age sequence and pigmentation in the stingless bee Trigona (Tetragonula) laeviceps. J Apic Res 23:55–58Google Scholar
  21. Salmah S, Inoue T, Mardius P, Sakagami SF (1987) Incubation period and post-emergence pigmentation in the Sumatran stingless bee Trigona (Trigonella) moorei. Kontyu 55:383–390Google Scholar
  22. Schwarz HF (1932) The genus Melipona. Bull Am Mus Nat Hist 63:231–460Google Scholar
  23. Schwarz HF (1948) Stingless bees (Meliponidae) of the Western hemisphere. Bull Am Mus Nat Hist 90:1–546Google Scholar
  24. Stone GN (1993) Thermoregulation in four species of tropical solitary bees: the roles of size, sex and altitude. J Comp Physiol B 163:317–326Google Scholar
  25. Stone GN, Willmer PG (1989a) Endothermy and temperature regulation in bees: a critique of "grab and stab" measurement of body temperature. J Exp Biol 143:211–223Google Scholar
  26. Stone GN, Willmer PG (1989b) Warm-up rates and body temperature in bees: the importance of body size, thermal regime and phylogeny. J Exp Biol 147:303–328Google Scholar
  27. Willmer PG, Corbet SA (1981) Temporal and microclimatic partitioning of the floral resources of Justicia aurea amongst a concourse of pollen vectors and nectar robbers. Oecologia 51:67–78Google Scholar
  28. Wilmer PG, Unwin DM (1981) Field analysis of insect heat budgets: reflectance, size and heating rates. Oecologia 50:250–255Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Zoological Society of LondonInstitute of ZoologyLondonUK
  2. 2.Neurobiology and BehaviorCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

Personalised recommendations