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L. A. Medina-Medina, A. G. Hart, F. L.W. Ratnieks (2014)Waste management in the stingless bee Melipona beecheii Bennett (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Sociobiology 61: 428-434
Waste management is important in insect societies because waste
can be hazardous to adults, brood and food stores. The general
organization of waste management and the influence of task partitioning,
division of labor and age polyethism on waste processing were studied
in three colonies of the tropical American stingless bee Melipona beecheii
Bennett in Yucatán, Mexico. Waste generated in the colony (feces, old
brood cells, cocoons, dead adults and brood) was collected by workers
throughout the nest and taken to specific waste dumps within the nest.
During the day, workers based at the waste dumps formed waste pellets,
which they directly transferred in 93% of cases, to other workers who subsequently removed them from the nest. This is an example of task
partitioning and is hypothesized to improve nest hygiene as has been
found in leafcutting ants, Atta. To investigate division of
labor and age polyethism we marked a cohort of 144 emerging workers.
Workers forming waste pellets were on average 31.2±6.5 days old (±SD, N= 40, range of 18-45 days). The life span of M. beecheii workers was 49.0±14.0 days (N= 144). There was no difference in the life span of workers who formed (52.2±11.6 days, N= 40) or did not form (49.9±11.5 days, N=
97) waste pellets, suggesting that waste work did not increase
mortality. Although waste was probably not hazardous to adults and
brood, because the dumps are located outside the brood chamber, its
presence inside the nests can attract phorid flies and predators, which
can harm the colony.