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Concept: Gyne


INTRODUCTION: Primitively eusocial halictid bees are excellent systems to study the origin of eusociality, because all individuals have retained the ancestral ability to breed independently. In the sweat bee Halictus scabiosae, foundresses overwinter, establish nests and rear a first brood by mass-provisioning each offspring with pollen and nectar. The mothers may thus manipulate the phenotype of their offspring by restricting their food provisions. The first brood females generally help their mother to rear a second brood of males and gynes that become foundresses. However, the first brood females may also reproduce in their maternal or in other nests, or possibly enter early diapause. Here, we examined if the behavioural specialization of the first and second brood females was associated with between-brood differences in body size, energetic reserves and pollen provisions. RESULTS: The patterns of variation in adult body size, weight, fat content and food provisioned to the first and second brood indicate that H. scabiosae has dimorphic females. The first-brood females were significantly smaller, lighter and had lower fat reserves than the second-brood females and foundresses. The first-brood females were also less variable in size and fat content, and developed on homogeneously smaller pollen provisions. Foundresses were larger than gynes of the previous year, suggesting that small females were less likely to survive the winter. CONCLUSIONS: The marked size dimorphism between females produced in the first and second brood and the consistently smaller pollen provisions provided to the first brood suggest that the first brood females are channelled into a helper role during their pre-imaginal development. As a large body size is needed for successful hibernation, the mother may promote helping in her first brood offspring by restricting their food provisions. This pattern supports the hypothesis that parental manipulation may contribute to promote worker behaviour in primitively eusocial halictids.

Concepts: Insect, Mother, Honey, Bee, Ant, Eusociality, Halictidae, Gyne


The attraction of sexual partners is a vital necessity among insects, and it involves conflict of interests and complex communication systems among male and female. In this study, we investigated the developing of sexual attractiveness in virgin queens (i.e., gynes) of Melipona flavolineata, an eusocial stingless bee. We followed the development of sexual attractiveness in 64 gynes, belonging to seven age classes (0, 3, 6, 9, 15, 18 days post-emergence), and we also evaluated the effect of different social interactions (such as competition between queens and interactions with workers) on the development of attractiveness in other 60 gynes. We used the number of males that tried to mate with a focal gyne as a representative variable of its sexual attractiveness. During the essays, each gyne was individually presented to 10 sexually mature males, and during 3 min, we counted the number of males that everted their genitalia in response to the presence of a gyne. Here, we show that M. flavolineata gynes are capable to (i) maintain their sexual attractiveness for long periods through adult life, (ii) they need a minimum social interaction to trigger the development of sexual attractiveness, and (iii) that gynes express this trait only within a social context. We conclude that the effective occurrence of matings is conditional on potential social interactions that gynes experienced before taking the nuptial flight, when they are still in the nest. These findings bring insights into the factors determining reproductive success in social insects.

Concepts: Male, Reproduction, Sociology, Honey bee, Bee, Ant, Eusociality, Gyne


In cooperatively breeding vertebrates, the existence of individuals that help to raise the offspring of non-relatives is well established, but unrelated helpers are less well known in the social insects. Eusocial insect groups overwhelmingly consist of close relatives, so populations where unrelated helpers are common are intriguing. Here, we focus on Polistes dominula-the best-studied primitively eusocial wasp, and a species in which nesting with non-relatives is not only present but frequent. We address two major questions: why individuals should choose to nest with non-relatives, and why such individuals participate in the costly rearing of unrelated offspring. Polistes dominula foundresses produce more offspring of their own as subordinates than when they nest independently, providing a potential explanation for co-founding by non-relatives. There is some evidence that unrelated subordinates tailor their behaviour towards direct fitness, while the role of recognition errors in generating unrelated co-foundresses is less clear. Remarkably, the remote but potentially highly rewarding chance of inheriting the dominant position appears to strongly influence behaviour, suggesting that primitively eusocial insects may have much more in common with their social vertebrate counterparts than has commonly been thought.

Concepts: Wasp, Ant, Hymenoptera, Kin selection, Eusociality, Termite, Polistinae, Gyne