Cuckoo male bumblebees perform slower and longer flower visits than free-living male and worker bumblebees

Alessandro Fisogni, Gherardo Bogo, François Massol, Laura Bortolotti, Marta Galloni


Cuckoo bumblebees are a monophyletic group within the genus Bombus and social parasites of free-living bumblebees, upon which they rely to rear their offspring. Cuckoo bumblebees lack the worker caste and visit flowers primarily for their own sustenance and do not collect pollen. Although different flower-visiting behaviours can be expected between cuckoo and free-living bumblebees due to different biological constraints, no study has yet quantified such differences. Here, we provide the first empirical evidence of different flower-visiting behaviours between cuckoo and free-living bumblebees. We recorded the flower-visiting behaviour of 350 individual bumblebees over two years in a wild population of the entomophilous plant Gentiana lutea, of which they are among the main pollinators. In cuckoo bumblebees (28.9% of the total), we only found males, while we found both workers and males in free-living bumblebees. Cuckoo bumblebees visited significantly more flowers for longer time periods than both free-living bumblebee workers and males within whorls, while differences at the whole-plant level were less marked. Free-living bumblebee males visited more flowers and performed slightly longer flower visits than workers. Behavioural differences between cuckoo male bumblebees and free-living bumblebee workers are likely related to different foraging needs, while differences between cuckoo and free-living bumblebee males may be caused by differences in colony development and a delayed mating period of free-living bumblebees. The longer visits made by cuckoo male bumblebees will likely negatively affect plant reproductive success through increased within-plant pollen flow.


Bombus; flower-visiting behaviour; Gentiana lutea; plant-pollinator interactions; Psithyrus

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