A stingless bee (Melipona seminigra) marks food sources with a pheromone from its claw retractor tendons

J Chem Ecol. 2004 Apr;30(4):793-804. doi: 10.1023/b:joec.0000028432.29759.ed.


By depositing scent marks on flowers, bees reduce both the search time and the time spent with the handling of nonrewarding flowers. They thereby improve the efficiency of foraging. Whereas in honey bees the source of these scent marks is unknown, it is assumed to be the tarsal glands in bumble bees. According to histological studies, however, the tarsal glands lack any openings to the outside. Foragers of the stingless bee Melipona seminigra have previously been shown to deposit an attractant pheromone at sugar solution feeders, which is secreted at the tips of their tarsi. Here we show that the claw retractor tendons have specialized glandular epithelia within the femur and tibia of all legs that produce this pheromone. The secretion accumulates within the hollow tendon, which also serves as the duct to the outside, and is released from an opening at the base of the unguitractor plate. In choice experiments, M. seminigra was attracted by feeders baited with pentane extracts of the claw retractor tendons in the same way as it was attracted by feeders previously scent marked by foragers. Our results resolve the seeming contradiction between the importance of foot print secretions and the lack of openings of the tarsal glands.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / anatomy & histology
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Brazil
  • Complex Mixtures / analysis
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Hydrocarbons / analysis
  • Pheromones / chemistry
  • Pheromones / physiology*
  • Scent Glands / anatomy & histology
  • Scent Glands / chemistry
  • Scent Glands / physiology*


  • Complex Mixtures
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Pheromones