Honeybee hive hierarchy is well documented - The queen bee gives birth to every bee in the hive, drones mate with the queen and immediately die or get kicked out, while worker bees ensure that the hive functions like clockwork. Now it seems, that South American honeybees have added an additional role- that of a soldier bee.
The discovery was made by researchers from the University of Sao Paulo and University of Sussex, who spent some time observing Brazil's Jatai bees. In order to ensure they were observing the same bees, the scientists marked the insects that were hovering near the hive entrance, with paint.
What they observed, was interesting. While the rest of their 'worker' colleagues went in and out, the marked bees spent long periods of time outside the two beehive entrances. While being on 'guard' duty was not unusual, the length of time sure was.
That's because while all honeybees are at some point assigned to be guards, they usually last there for a day or so, before moving on to other tasks. In the case of the Jatai bees, the guards remained in position for about three weeks, or almost their entire life, suggesting that this, was their primary duty.
Upon closer observation they realized that the soldier bees had different physical attributes. They were about 30 percent heavier then the other workers and had sturdier legs and smaller heads. The scientists believe that over the years, the Jatai have evolved, so that roughly one percent of the 10,000 worker bees are born to be soldiers - a 'career' created largely to fight off the Lestrimelitta Limao or robber bees - Another species of stingless bee that pillages and destroys hives in search of honey.
The researchers believe that the discovery is significant, because while larger soldier specimens of ants and termites has been known for years, this is the first time a specialized soldier bee, one that was born bigger specifically for this purpose, has ever been discovered.
Jatai bees that go by the scientific name Tetragonisca Angustula, are the most common species of bees found in Brazil. They live in colonies of 10,000 inside tree trunks, cavity walls and even, on the ground.
Resources: physorg.com, sciencedaily.com