Navigation Links
A bee's future as queen or worker may rest with parasitic fly

Strange things are happening in the lowland tropical forests of Panama and Costa Rica. A tiny parasitic fly is affecting the social behavior of a nocturnal bee, helping to determine which individuals become queens and which become workers.

The finding by researchers from the University of Washington and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is the first documented example of a parasite having a positive affect on the social behavior of its host. This is accomplished by cleptoparasitism in this case fly larvae stealing food from the developing immature bees. The researchers found that smaller bees that emerge in a nest are dominated by their mothers. These small bees are more likely to stay and act as helping workers, while larger bees tend to depart and start new nests as egg-laying queens. Bees that emerge from cells, or brood chambers, that also house flies are smaller than their nest mates from fly-free cells. The flies may encourage worker behavior in some bees.

"We often think of parasitism in terms of it affecting an animal's fitness, its survival or its ability to reproduce," said Sean O'Donnell, a UW associate professor of psychology and co-author of the paper appearing in the current issue of the Journal of Insect Behavior. "Here the parasite is not living inside another animal, but is still stealing resources from the host.

"We think these fly parasites are not affecting the lifespan of the bees, and the bees' mothers benefit by having a helper, or worker, stay around to protect the nest, increasing survivability."

O'Donnell and his colleagues studied two closely related tropical social bees, Megalopta genalis and Megalopta ecuadoria, and a family of very small parasitic flies called Chloropidae.

The bees are important pollinators of night-blooming plants and the female bees can nest alone or live in small colonies. A colony is typically made up of two to four individuals a queen and her offspring.

Behavioral observations showed that non-reproductive foragers and guards are significantly smaller than the queen bee in a nest, although the relative size of individual bees varied from nest to nest. Here's where the flies apparently fit in and are affecting the bees' behavior. The bees nest in hollowed twigs and sticks hanging in the tropical understory and the flies flick their eggs into the entrance to the bee nests. Some of these eggs randomly fall into cells, or chambers, prepared by the bees, each to hold a larva and pollen that the larva eats. The cells are then sealed, so if a cell does contain fly eggs the young flies are competing with the bee larva for a limited amount of food.

"There is a natural size variation in bees and this is based in part on the amount of food available in the cell," said O'Donnell. "A fly or flies in a cell reducing the amount of food could be a potentially important factor. It seems that the more flies in a cell the smaller the bee is. The key here is relative body size compared to nest mates. The larger individuals become queens because they are not dominated."

The researchers were able to culture the bees and flies from individual cells and counted as many as 15 of the tiny flies in a single cell. Some cells did not contain flies.

"This study is a counterintuitive take on parasitic infection. It encourages us to look for complicated ecological relationships between different species. Parasitism may encourage sociality in some situations. Here it is promoting social behavior," O'Donnell said.


Contact: Joel Schwarz
University of Washington

Related biology news :

1. Wasps and bumble bees heat up, fly faster with protein-rich food
2. Want to fly? Dont copy the birds and the bees
3. Bees disease -- 1 step closer to finding a cure
4. Training future scientists at the Ecological Society of Americas 93rd Annual Meeting
5. Study: Future snowmelt in West twice as early as expected; threatens ecosystems and water reserves
6. Algae from the ocean a sustainable energy source of the future
7. The AGA Foundation invests in gastroenterologys future
8. Securing the future of Europes biological data resources
9. U-M scientists remove thousands of aspens to glimpse forests future
10. Crystal (eye) ball: Study says visual system equipped with future seeing powers
11. Emissions irrelevant to future climate change?
Post Your Comments:
(Date:10/6/2015)... 2015  Maverix Biomics, Inc., a leading genomic ... software portfolio with the debut of its RNA-Seq ... in eukaryotes. The software is integrated into the ... analysis solution that leverages proven open-source algorithms and ... efforts. Garry Nolan,s laboratory at ...
(Date:9/30/2015)... , Sept. 30, 2015  The U.S. Court of ... another key ruling in favor of Crossmatch ™, ... fingerprint scanner company Suprema and its U.S. partner Mentalix ... a trade provision that declares it unlawful to engage ... infringing two of Crossmatch,s patents, the 5,900,993 patent and ...
(Date:9/28/2015)...  The monitoring of vital signs, such as ... an essential component of patient assessment. Changes in ... a patient,s condition. However, in general care areas ... during routine observation rounds only once every four ... these observation rounds, the warning signs can go ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:10/13/2015)... , October 13, 2015 " ... and Forecast 2015 - 2023 " , the ... and is anticipated to reach US$7.59 bn by 2023, expanding at ... 2023. --> " Microbiology Culture Market - Global ... " , the global microbiology culture market was ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... --      Q BioMed Inc (OTC: QBIO), ... a strategic relationship with Wombat Capital, Ltd., a ... France based strategic and scientific advisory firm.. ... collaborative arrangement gives Q BioMed and its stakeholders access ... as long established pharmaceutical industry relationships. The advisors within ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... (PRWEB) , ... October 13, 2015 , ... ... and distributor of automation systems, material handling solutions and components, is opening its ... I-94 near State Street, the facility is Exotic’s second major expansion in Metropolitan ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... , ... October 13, 2015 , ... ... educational opportunities for school age children in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering ... sectors of the national economy, and the program aims to increase the number ...
Breaking Biology Technology: