Female choice in the red mason bee, Osmia rufa (L.) (Megachilidae)

J Exp Biol. 2010 Dec 1;213(Pt 23):4065-73. doi: 10.1242/jeb.038174.


Females are often thought to use several cues and more than one modality in selection of a mate, possibly because they offer complementary information on a mate's suitability. In the red mason bee, Osmia rufa, we investigated the criteria a female uses to choose a mating partner. We hypothesized that the female uses male thorax vibrations and size as signs of male viability and male odor for kin discrimination and assessment of genetic relatedness. We therefore compared males that had been accepted by a female for copulation with those rejected, in terms of their size, their immediate precopulatory vibrations (using laser vibrometry), the genetic relatedness of unmated and mated pairs (using microsatellite markers) and emitted volatiles (using chemical analyses). Females showed a preference for intermediate-sized males that were slightly larger than the modal male size. Furthermore, male precopulatory vibration burst duration was significantly longer in males accepted for copulation compared with rejected males. Vibrations may indicate vigor and assure that males selected by females are metabolically active and healthy. Females preferentially copulated with males that were genetically more closely related, possibly to avoid outbreeding depression. Volatiles of the cuticular surface differed significantly between accepted and rejected males in the relative amounts of certain hydrocarbons, although the relationship between male odor and female preference was complex. Females may therefore also use differences in odor bouquet to select among males. Our investigations show that O. rufa females appear to use multiple cues in selecting a male. Future investigations are needed to demonstrate whether odor plays a role in kin recognition and how the multiple cues are integrated in mate choice by females.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Body Size
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Female
  • Integumentary System
  • Male
  • Mating Preference, Animal / physiology*
  • Odorants / analysis
  • Phylogeny
  • Vibration
  • Volatilization