Chemical profiles of body surfaces and nests from six Bornean stingless bee species

Sara Diana Leonhardt, Nico Blüthgen, Thomas Schmitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Stingless bees (Apidae: Meliponini) are the most diverse group of Apid bees and represent common pollinators in tropical ecosystems. Like honeybees they live in large eusocial colonies and rely on complex chemical recognition and communication systems. In contrast to honeybees, their ecology and especially their chemical ecology have received only little attention, particularly in the Old World. We previously have analyzed the chemical profiles of six paleotropical stingless bee species from Borneo and revealed the presence of species-specific cuticular terpenes- an environmentally derived compound class so far unique among social insects. Here, we compared the bees' surface profiles to the chemistry of their nest material. Terpenes, alkanes, and alkenes were the dominant compound groups on both body surfaces and nest material. However, bee profiles and nests strongly differed in their chemical composition. Body surfaces thus did not merely mirror nests, rendering a passive compound transfer from nests to bees unlikely. The difference between nests and bees was particularly pronounced when all resin-derived compounds (terpenes) were excluded and only genetically determined compounds were considered. When terpenes were included, bee profiles and nest material still differed, because whole groups of terpenes (e. g., sesquiterpenes) were found in nest material of some species, but missing in their chemical profile, indicating that bees are able to influence the terpene composition both in their nests and on their surfaces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-104
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Cuticular profile
  • Meliponines
  • Resin
  • Stingless bees
  • Terpenes
  • Wax chemistry


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