Journal of Insect Behavior

, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 399–411 | Cite as

Colony Social Organisation and Alternative Social Strategies in the Eastern Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa virginica

  • Miriam H. RichardsEmail author


The eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica, can nest either solitarily or in groups. In southern Ontario, Canada, near the northern edge of the range, most nests are social, containing groups of two to five adult females. Although social nests were much more frequent than solitary ones, they produced no more brood, so per capita brood productivity was actually lower for social females. Social females exhibited several reproductive strategies inferred from wing wear patterns, which reflect flight activity, and mandibular wear patterns, which reflect nest construction activity. Primary females accumulated a large degree of wing and mandibular wear and were presumed to be the primary reproductives in social nests. Secondary females accumulated less wing and mandibular wear and were probably subordinates awaiting opportunities to supersede primaries as dominant foragers and egg-layers. Tertiary females remained inactive, apparently deferring reproduction to the subsequent year. Social nesting, serial replacement of dominant females in social nests, and deferred reproduction are probably responses to severe competition for nests and nesting substrate.


Social polymorphism facultatively social Xylocopa reproductive strategy 



I thank J. Vickruck and S. Rehan for comments on the manuscript, S. Prager for field work, and the Brock University gardeners for their enlightened attitude towards keeping large stinging insects in public areas. This work was supported by an NSERC Discovery Grant to the author.


  1. Anzenberger G (1977) Ethological study of African carpenter bees of the genus Xylocopa (Hymenoptera, Anthophoridae). Z Tierpsychol 44:337–374PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Balduf WV (1962) Life of the carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica (Linn.) (Xylocopidae, Hymenoptera). Ann Entomol Soc Am 55:263–271Google Scholar
  3. Bernardino AS, Gaglianone MC (2008) Nest distribution and nesting habits of Xylocopa ordinaria Smith (Hymenoptera, Apidae) in a restinga area in the northern Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil. Rev Bras Entomol 52:434–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Camillo E, Garofalo CA (1989) Social organization in reactivated nests of three species of Xylocopa (Hymenoptera, Anthophoridae) in southeastern Brazil. Ins Soc 36:92–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cane JH (1987) Estimation of bee size using intertegular span (Apoidea). J Kans Entomol Soc 60:145–147Google Scholar
  6. Cartar R (1992) Morphological senescence and longevity: an experiment relating wing wear and life span in foraging wild bumble bees. J Anim Ecol 61:225–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Course C (2011) The implications of forager behaviour for social organisation in a socially polymorphic carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica. MSc thesis, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, 112 ppGoogle Scholar
  8. Dunn T, Richards MH (2003) When to bee social: interactions among environmental constraints, incentives, guarding, and relatedness in a facultatively social carpenter bee. Behav Ecol 14:417–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gerling D (1982) Nesting biology and flower relationships of Xylocopa sonorina Smith in Hawaii (Hymenoptera: Anthophoridae). Pan Pac Entomol 58:336–351Google Scholar
  10. Gerling D, Hermann HR (1978) Biology and mating behavior of Xylocopa virginica L (Hymenoptera, Anthophoridae). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 3:99–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gerling D, Velthuis HHW, Hefetz A (1989) Bionomics of the large carpenter bees of the genus Xylocopa. Annu Rev Entomol 34:163–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Haas CA, Cartar RV (2008) Robust flight performance of bumble bees with artificially induced wing wear. Can J Zool 86:668–675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hamilton WD (1972) Altruism and related phenomena, mainly in social insects. Ann Rev Ecolog Syst 3:193–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hogendoorn K (1991) Intraspecific competition in the carpenter bee Xylocopa pubescens and its implications for the evolution of sociality. Proc Exper Appl Entomol 2:123–128Google Scholar
  15. Hogendoorn K (1996) Socio-economics of brood destruction during supersedure in carpenter bee Xylocopa pubescens. J Evol Biol 9:931–952CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hogendoorn K, Velthuis HHW (1993) The sociality of Xylocopa pubescens: does a helper really help? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 32:247–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hogendoorn K, Velthuis HHW (1995) The role of young guards in Xylocopa pubescens. Ins Soc 42:427–448CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hogendoorn K, Velthuis HHW (1999) Task allocation and reproductive skew in social mass provisioning carpenter bees in relation to age and size. Ins Soc 46:198–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Maeta Y, Miyanaga R, Sugiura N, Lu S (1996) Additional notes on the nesting habits of the Taiwanese bamboo carpenter bee, Xylocopa (Biluna) tranquebarorum tranquebarorum (Hymenoptera, Anthophoridae). Jpn J Entomol 64:669–680Google Scholar
  20. Packer L (1990) Solitary and eusocial nests in a population of Augochlorella striata (Provancher) (Hymenoptera: Halictidae) at the northern edge of its range. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 27:339–344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Page RE, Scheiner R, Erber J, Amdam GV (2006) The development and evolution of division of labor and foraging specialization in a social insect (Apis mellifera L.). In: Current topics in developmental biology, vol 74. Elsevier Academic Press Inc, San Diego, pp 253–286Google Scholar
  22. Peso M, Richards MH (2010) Knowing who’s who: nestmate recognition in the facultatively social carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica. Anim Behav 79:563–570CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Peso M, Richards MH (2011) Not all who wander are lost: nest site fidelity in the large carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica. Ins Soc 58:127–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Plateaux-Quénu C, Plateaux L, Packer L (2000) Population-typical behaviours are retained when eusocial and non-eusocial forms of Evylaeus albipes (F.) (Hymenoptera, Halictidae) are reared simultaneously in the laboratory. Ins Soc 47:263–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Rau P (1933) Jungle bees and wasps of Barro Colorado Island. Rau, P, MissouriGoogle Scholar
  26. Rehan SM, Richards MH, Schwarz MP (2009) Evidence of social nesting in the Ceratina of Borneo (Hymenoptera: Apidae). J Kans Entomol Soc 82:194–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Richards MH, Rutgers-Kelly A, Gibbs J, Vickruck JL, Rehan SM, Sheffield CS (2011) Bee diversity in naturalizing patches of Carolinian grasslands in southern Ontario, Canada. Can Entomol 143:279–299Google Scholar
  28. Schwarz MP, Richards MH, Danforth BN (2007) Changing paradigms in insect social evolution: insights from halictine and allodapine bees. Annu Rev Entomol 52:127–150PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schwarz MP, Tierney SM, Rehan SM, Chenoweth LB, Cooper SJB (2011) The evolution of eusociality in allodapine bees: workers began by waiting. Biol Lett 7:277–280PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Skandalis DA, Tattersall GJ, Prager S, Richards MH (2009) Body size and shape of the large carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica (L.) (Hymenoptera: Apidae). J Kans Entomol Soc 82:30–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Skandalis DA, Sformo T, Tattersall GJ, Richards MH (in press) Climate limitations on the distribution and phenology of the large carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica (L.) (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Can J ZoolGoogle Scholar
  32. Soucy SL, Danforth BN (2002) Phylogeography of the socially polymorphic sweat bee Halictus rubicundus (Hymenoptera: Halictidae). Evolution 56:330–341PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Stark RE (1992) Cooperative nesting in the multivoltine large carpenter bee Xylocopa sulcatipes Maa (Apoidea, Anthophoridae)—Do helpers gain or lose to solitary females? Ethology 91:301–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Stark RE, Hefetz A, Gerling D, Velthuis HHW (1990) Reproductive competition involving oophagy in the socially nesting bee Xylocopa sulcatipes. Naturwiss 77:38–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Steen Z, Schwarz MP (2000) Nesting and life cycle of the Australian green carpenter bees Xylocopa (Lestis) aeratus Smith and Xylocopa (Lestis) bombylans (Fabricius) (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Xylocopinae). Aust J Entomol 39:291–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. van der Blom J, Velthuis HHW (1988) Social behaviour of the carpenter bee Xylocopa pubescens (Spinola). Ethology 79:281–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Velthuis HHW, Gerling D (1983) At the brink of sociality: interactions between adults of the carpenter bee Xylocopa pubescens Spinola. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 12:209–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wcislo WT (1997) Behavioral environments of sweat bees (Halictinae) in relation to variability in social organization. In: Choe J, Crespi BJ (eds) Evolution of social behaviour in insects and arachnids. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 316–332Google Scholar
  39. West SA, Griffin AS, Gardner A (2007) Social semantics: altruism, cooperation, mutualism, strong reciprocity and group selection. J Evol Biol 20:415–432PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesBrock UniversitySt. CatharinesCanada

Personalised recommendations