Well this week has been a stressful one. Between funerals, rocks thrown at my head and the removal of the abscess on my leg there has been little time for writing. Still at least I had time for this, last week the pure power of the pugilistic Peacock Mantis Shrimp was on display. The animal this week was selected by @dboyrules2011 and continues the theme of shiny happy creatures with dark sides…
Issue #31 Neon Cuckoo Bee
Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Arthropoda
Class – Insecta
Order – Hymenoptera
Family – Apidae
Genus – Thyreus
Species – nitidulus
Related Species - The Neon Cuckoo Bee is one of 64 species in the genus Thyreus and are known colloquially as Cloak and Dagger Bees (1)
Range - The Neon Cuckoo Bee is native to the coastal areas of North and Eastern Australia as well as Papa New Guinea
Spec Ops Bee
Neon Cuckoo Bees are medium sized solitary bees that are easily recognisable by their metallic blue bodies and purple wings. Crossing the relatively stocky body is a number of black bands that run up to the insect’s bulky thorax (2). Like most bees the imago (or adult) navigates using a mixture of scent and vision, as well as using the fine hairs on the face to sense textural differences when close to an object.
While herbivorous throughout their entire life, nectar feeders as adults and pollen eaters as grubs, there is a predatory aspect to the Neon Cuckoo Bee. After mating the female will shadow workers of the Blue Banded Bee (Amegilla cingulata) back to their nest, before following her inside while the hive’s guard is momentarily down. Once inside the Neon Cuckoo Bee will find a partially constructed brood cell and lay her own egg inside before leaving to find more hives to support her offspring (3).
Upon hatching the larval Cuckoo Bee wastes no time in gaining an advantage over the host’s larvae, quickly consuming all the stockpiled pollen and honey inside its cell. By the time the Banded Bee grub hatches the majority of the food is consumed and the Cuckoo Bee larvae ready to pupate. As such the host larvae dies of malnutrition and some time later the adult Cuckoo Bee bulldozes it’s way out of the hive before the host bees realise that they were raising a parasite within their midst.
Ecology 101 - A Brief Guide to Environmental Mechanics #3
Brood Parasitism is a very common practice in the animal kingdom: with birds, bees and fish all practicing this behaviour. The actual process is initially similar to predation, with the biological mother invading the host’s nest, but is actually a form of kleptoparasitism with the resulting parasite offspring stealing food from the host’s own young. Perhaps the most well studied example of brood parasitism is the Common or European Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus).
While initially similar to the behaviour of other avian nest parasites, what makes the Common Cuckoo unique is that, unlike all other known brood parasites, it utilises a wide range of host species, matching the appearance of its eggs as closely as it can to the hosts. The Cuckoo will make sure to remove an egg first, to further sell the deception to its hosts. After that it remains close to the nest in order to make sure the host has taken the bait. Some hosts, such as the European Magpie (Pica pica) will remove parasite eggs resulting in ‘mafia behaviour’ from the Cuckoo, with the entire nest destroyed and any eggs or chicks consumed by the adult, in order to get the magpies to breed again (4)
When the parasite offspring hatches, be it a bee, bird or fish, it quickly outstrips the host offspring of resources by growing rapidly, and in most cases will destroy it’s siblings before they can catch up. Often the host species is oblivious to the fact they are raising an impostor until it leaves the nest or hive. While cuckoos and cuckoo bees are well suited for the child free lifestyle, one group of parasites has reversed the trend for its own nefarious purposes.
The Slave Making Ants (also called Pirate Ants) will raise its own young that consist solely of soldier and breeding adults, but rarely produce any worker caste offspring. To rectify this, the soldiers leave the hive and raid nearby ant nests of their pupated young and larvae and drag them back to their own nest. Their the ‘slave larvae’ are washed in the Pirate Ant pheromones as they mature, and upon adulthood hatch thinking that they are part of the colony. These ‘slave workers’ will care for the slave maker’s larvae, take part in colony defence and even participate in raids (sometimes against their old colony) with unflinching loyalty to their masters.
1 - www.arkive.org
2 - http://animalworld.tumblr.com/post/6037913789/neon-cuckoo-bee-thyreus-nitidulus-c-erica-siegel
3 - http://www.brisbaneinsects.com/brisbane_bees/NeonCuckooBee.htm
4 - Payne, R. B. 1997. Avian brood parasitism. In D. H. Clayton and J. Moore (eds.), Host-parasite evolution: General principles and avian models, 338–369. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
1 - http://38.media.tumblr.com/31dd87020d6716549a782b1b10dc1e78/tumblr_n4faqtcWgc1sq1114o1_1280.jpg
2 - https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2894/11402471003_02c92ea8ca_m.jpg
3 - http://cdn1.arkive.org/media/21/212DF60A-C670-4825-8166-16D1B00B0C59/Presentation.Large/Reed-warbler-feeds-cuckoo-chick-in-nest.jpg
And as seen that is the nefarious Neon Cuckoo Bee and its cloak and dagger skill. Next issue we have @knightsofdarkness2 selection of species, but until then remember to comment, drop a suggestion of a creature to cover and check out the Bestiary of Past Issues