Defense and Group Aggression

Bees generally attack only to defend their colony, but will also attack if they are seriously disturbed outside the nest. Common sources of attack stimulus include alarm pheromone, vibrations, carbon dioxide, hair, and dark colors (Crane 1990). This makes sense because mammals, which are common predators of bees, are usually hairy, dark colored, and exhale carbon dioxide. Aggression may also occur during foraging if there is significant competition for food resources. Interspecific competition over limited food sources has led to the evolution of aggressive group recruitment systems in stingless bees (Hymenoptera, Apidae, Meliponini), one of the most important native Neotropical pollinators (Johnson and Hubbell 1974; Johnson and Hubbell 1987; Roubik 1989; Nagamitsu and Inoue 1997; Slaa et al. 1997; Kevan and Imperatriz-Fonseca 2002; Slaa 2003; Nieh et al. 2004). Such aggressive competition may be costly and critical to colony survival, especially during periods of relative food dearth (Roubik 1982; Roubik 1989).

Click on the links below to see some examples of group aggression in stingless bees!

T. spinipes vs. honeybee
[Quicktime Movie]



Selected References

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Nieh, J.C., Barreto, L.S., Contrera, F.A.L., and Imperatriz-Fonseca, V.L., 2004. Olfactory eavesdropping by a competitively foraging stingless bee, Trigona spinipes. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences 271: 1633-1640.

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