Cuckoo bumble bees (Psithyrus) (Lepeletier, 1832) (Hymenoptera: Apidae) are a unique lineage of bees that depend exclusively on a host bumble bee species to provide nesting material, nutritional resources, and labor to rear offspring. In this study, we document usurpation incidence and population genetic data of Bombus insularis (Smith, 1861) (Hymenoptera: Apidae), a bumble bee species in the Psithyrus subgenus, on field-deployed B. huntii colonies in northern Utah, United States. Within 12 d of deploying B. huntii Greene, 1860 (Hymenoptera: Apidae) colonies at two field sites, 13 of the 16 colonies contained at least one established B. insularis female. Although our results demonstrate that field-deployed bumble bee colonies are highly susceptible to B. insularis usurpation, applying a fabricated excluder to prevent the inquiline from invading a colony was 100% effective. Sibship analysis using microsatellite genotype data of 59 B. insularis females estimates that they originated from at least 49 unique colonies. Furthermore, sibship analysis found siblings distributed between the field sites that were 7.04 km apart. Our result suggests that B. insularis females have the capacity to disperse across the landscape in search of host colonies at distances of at least 3.52 km and up to 7.04 km. Our study underscores the detrimental impact B. insularis usurpation has on the host bumble bee colony. As B. insularis significantly impacts the success of bumble bee colonies, we briefly discuss how the utilization of excluders may be useful for commercial bumble bee colonies that are used to pollinate open field crops.
Keywords: Psithyrus excluder; bombiculture; cuckoo bumble bee; dispersal; inquiline.
Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Entomological Society of America 2021.