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Out with the garbage: the parasitic strategy of the mantisfly Plega hagenella mass-infesting colonies of the eusocial bee Melipona subnitida in northeastern Brazil

Abstract

Between April and June of 2012 mantisflies (Plega hagenella) were found to be extensively parasitizing the nests of two groups of managed colonzies of eusocial stingless bees (Melipona subnitida) in the semi-arid region of northeastern Brazil. The mantisfly larvae developed inside closed brood cells of the bee comb, where each mantispid larva fed on the bee larva or pupa present in a single brood cell. Mature mantispid larvae pupated inside silken cocoons spun in place within their hosts' brood cells then emerged as pharate adults inside the bee colony. Pharate adults were never attacked and killed by host colony workers. Instead, colony workers picked up the pharates and removed them from the nest unharmed, treating them similar to the way that the general refuse is removed from the nest. Adult mantispids subsequently eclosed from their pupal exuviae outside the nest. Manipulative experiments showed that post-eclosion adult mantispids placed back within active bee colonies were quickly attacked and killed. These observations demonstrate that pharate and post-eclosion adults of P. hagenella are perceived differently by colony workers and that delayed adult eclosion is an important functional element in the parasitic life strategy of P. hagenella, allowing adults to escape without injury from the bee colonies they parasitize.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the organizations CETAPIS (Mossoró-RN) and “De-Olho-Na-Água” (Icapuí-CE) for the facilities to study the stingless bee colonies; Aline de Souza, Pamella Soares, Ulysses Maia and Vinício de Souza for their help with data collection; and Dr. John Oswald for linguistic revision and valuable improvements in the manuscript. We are grateful for valuable comments by three anonymous referees. This study complies with current Brazilian laws and was financially supported by CAPES (CMS, VILF) and CNPq (MH: 304722/2010-3, 481256/2010-5).

Author information

Correspondence to Camila Maia-Silva.

Additional information

Communicated by: Sven Thatje

Electronic supplementary material

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Pharate adult of the mantisfly Plega hagenella ecloding from its cocoon spun inside a brood cell of the stingless bee Melipona subnitida. Video taken by Dirk Koedam (MPG 5514 kb)

Two pharate adults of the mantisfly Plega hagenella completing the ecdysis to full adults. Video taken by Dirk Koedam (MPG 15264 kb)

Pharate adult of the mantisfly Plega hagenella introduced into a Petri-dish together with 10 workers of the stingless bee Melipona subnitida. The mantisfly is first antennated intensely by the bees, then grabbed and carried around. Note that the pharate adult survives these interactions with the host workers. Video taken by Michael Hrncir (MPG 8892 kb)

Post-eclosion adult of the mantisfly Plega hagenella introduced into a Petri-dish together with 10 workers of the stingless bee Melipona subnitida. The host workers attack and dismember the mantisfly. Video taken by Michael Hrncir (MPG 14860 kb)

Online Resource 1

Pharate adult of the mantisfly Plega hagenella ecloding from its cocoon spun inside a brood cell of the stingless bee Melipona subnitida. Video taken by Dirk Koedam (MPG 5514 kb)

Online Resource 2

Two pharate adults of the mantisfly Plega hagenella completing the ecdysis to full adults. Video taken by Dirk Koedam (MPG 15264 kb)

Online Resource 3

Pharate adult of the mantisfly Plega hagenella introduced into a Petri-dish together with 10 workers of the stingless bee Melipona subnitida. The mantisfly is first antennated intensely by the bees, then grabbed and carried around. Note that the pharate adult survives these interactions with the host workers. Video taken by Michael Hrncir (MPG 8892 kb)

Online Resource 4

Post-eclosion adult of the mantisfly Plega hagenella introduced into a Petri-dish together with 10 workers of the stingless bee Melipona subnitida. The host workers attack and dismember the mantisfly. Video taken by Michael Hrncir (MPG 14860 kb)

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Maia-Silva, C., Hrncir, M., Koedam, D. et al. Out with the garbage: the parasitic strategy of the mantisfly Plega hagenella mass-infesting colonies of the eusocial bee Melipona subnitida in northeastern Brazil. Naturwissenschaften 100, 101–105 (2013) doi:10.1007/s00114-012-0994-1

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Keywords

  • Meliponini
  • Melipona subnitida
  • Symphrasinae
  • Plega hagenella
  • Parasitism
  • Mantisfly biology