, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 51–60 | Cite as

Compounds extracted from heads of African stingless bees (Hypotrigona species) as a prospective taxonomic tool

  • N. N. Ndungu
  • N. Kiatoko
  • D. K. Masiga
  • S. K. Raina
  • C. W. W. Pirk
  • A. A. Yusuf
Original Article


Stingless bees are important pollinators of plants, and also producers of honey. Species within the African stingless bee genus Hypotrigona are difficult to differentiate due to morphological similarities. Chemical profiles of whole head extracts from workers of three Hypotrigona species: H. gribodoi, H. araujoi and H. ruspolii were studied by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. A total of 50 components belonging to six chemical classes: hydrocarbons, aldehydes, alcohols, terpenoids, steroids and fatty acids were identified. Twenty-nine compounds were found in H. araujoi, 26 in H. gribodoi and 33 in H. ruspolii head extracts. Hydrocarbons, alcohols and fatty acids were the major classes, whilst steroids and terpenoids were minor. Aldehydes were found only in H. ruspolii while terpenoids were only present in extracts of H. gribodoi and H. araujoi. Eight chemical compounds were specific to H. araujoi, six to H. gribodoi and nine to H. ruspolii, showing both qualitative and quantitative differences. Workers were successfully grouped into their respective species using their chemical profiles. This study shows that head extracts can be used as a reliable taxonomic tool for identifying and differentiating Hypotrigona species.


Speciation Head secretions Hypotrigona species Chemical profile 



The authors would like to thank members of Bee Health and Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics (MBBU) teams at ICIPE for their technical support. We acknowledge the financial support for this research by the following organizations and agencies: the European Union (EU) (Grant Contract No. DCI-FOOD/2013/313-659: African Reference Laboratory (with satellite stations) for the Management of Pollination Bee Diseases and Pests for Food Security); the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) Research Career Advancement Fellowship (Grant no: 91419) to AAY; NRF Incentive Funding for Rated Researchers to CWWP and AAY; UK Aid from the UK Government; Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida); the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Kenyan Government. The first author was supported by a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) In-Region Postgraduate Scholarship.

Supplementary material

49_2018_256_MOESM1_ESM.docx (19 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 19 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. N. Ndungu
    • 1
    • 2
  • N. Kiatoko
    • 1
  • D. K. Masiga
    • 1
  • S. K. Raina
    • 1
  • C. W. W. Pirk
    • 2
  • A. A. Yusuf
    • 2
  1. 1.International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe)NairobiKenya
  2. 2.Social Insects Research Group, Department of Zoology and EntomologyUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa

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