Field of Science

The Barrington Tops Stag Beetle

The stag beetles of the Lucanidae are among the most dramatic of all beetles. They are large, glossy, and the adult males often have greatly enlarged mandibles that are used in conflict with other males. As larvae, lucanids are found feeding on rotting wood; adults may feed on nectar and are largely nocturnal. Australia is home to its share of lucanid diversity though the need for suitable food for larvae means that they are mostly restricted to damper regions of the country. As a result, many Australian stag beetles have limited ranges, rendering them vulnerable if not (in this time of rising temperatures and reduced rainfalls) actively endangered. One such species is the Barrington stag beetle Lissapterus tetrops.

Female (left) and major male Lissapterus tetrops, from Coleptera7777.


The Barrington Tops is a mountain range forming part of the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales, direct north from Newcastle. The Barrington stag beetle was described from this range in 1916 by Arthur Lea, one of Australia's most prolific coleopterologists, and is restricted to rain forests at the upper heights of the range. Lissapterus is an endemic Australian genus of flightless stag beetles distinguished from other members of the family by the shape of the antennae. The terminal club that is usually characteristic of the antennae of stag beetles is less defined in Lissapterus with the last few segments of the short antennae being little larger than the rest. Like most other species in the genus, L. tetrops is almost entirely black, only becoming slightly reddish on the legs and antennae. It grows about an inch in length, males and females being not that dissimilar in size. Lissapterus tetrops differs from other species in the genus in lacking foveae on the pronotum and (mostly) on the head, being relatively sparsely punctate dorsally, and having the eye completely divided by a canthus. Major males have long curved mandibles with a pair of teeth internally near the midpoint, placed one above the other. Minor males and females have much smaller, more ordinary looking mandibles.

The natural history of this species is little known but it presumably resembles that of other species in the genus. Adults are found under rotting logs partially buried in the forest floor that provide food for the larvae. Adults may live for a long time, potentially up to about a year, though it is unclear what exactly they feed on. Other species of Lissapterus are mostly found in disjunct locations up and down the Great Dividing Range, their populations presumably becoming separated as the warming and drying of Australia's climate as it moved northwards forced them out of the lowlands. As the climate continues to become warmer and drier, these beetles may find themselves having to retreat higher and higher, and eventually they may find themselves with no further to go.

REFERENCE

Lea, A. M. 1916. Notes on some miscellaneous Coleoptera, with descriptions of new species. Part II. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 40: 272–436, pls 32–39.

Oribatid Time Again

The oribatid mite genus Neogymnobates was first recognised from Illinois in 1917. Since then, the genus has been found to be more widespread in North America and has also been described from Korea and Tibet. Species of Neogymnobates are known from arboreal habitats or in association with fallen wood, and live as grazers of micro-vegetation such as lichens.

Neogymnobates luteus, copyright Monica Young.


Neogymnobates belongs to the Ceratozetidae, a diverse family of oribatids whose characteristic features include a tutorium (a projecting tooth-like structure) on the side of the prodorsum and immovable pteromorphs on either side of the front of the notogaster. Neogymnobates has the lamellae on either side of the prodorsum widely separated from each other and connected by a transverse translamella at the front. There are thirteen pairs of setae on the notogaster and four pairs of porose areas (Balogh & Balogh 1992). One species, N. marilynae of British Columbia and Washington State, is known to have an extra unpaired porose area on the midline near the rear of the notogaster (Behan-Pelletier 2000), an unusual feature among oribatids but one whose significance is uncertain). Their legs end in three claws, a feature that (as I've commented before) correlates with their arboreal habits.

Half a dozen species of Neogymnobates have been recognised to date (Subías 2004). The species are distinguished by features such as the size and appearance of the setae, and the development of the prodorsal lamellae and translamella. One Korean species, N. parvisetiger, has been awarded its own subgenus Koreozetes due to its particularly small, almost indiscernable notogastral setae and its anteriorly notched rather than rounded rostrum (Aoki 1974). Most species are only known from limited ranges except one, N. luteus, for which separate subspecies have been recognised in northern North America and in Korea. Rather unexpectedly, this last species has also recently been recorded from Zanzibar (Ermilov & Khaustov 2018). This is a remarkable range increase, both geographically and ecologically (enough so that I can't help feeling it would benefit from double-checking) that raises the possibility that we may yet have a lot to learn about this oribatid genus.

REFERENCES

Aoki, J. 1974. Oribatid mites from Korea. I. Acta Zoologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 20 (3–4): 233–241.

Balogh, J., & P. Balogh. 1992. The Oribatid Mites Genera of the World vol. 1. Hungarian Natural History Museum: Budapest.

Behan-Pelletier, V. M. 2000. Ceratozetidae (Acari: Oribatida) of arboreal habitats. Canadian Entomologist 132: 153–182.

Ermilov, S. G., & A. A. Khaustov. 2018. A contribution to the knowledge of oribatid mites (Acari, Oribatida) of Zanzibar. Acarina 26 (2): 151–159.

Subías, L. S. 2004. Listado sistemático, sinonímico y biogeográfico de los ácaros oribátidos (Acariformes, Oribatida) del mundo (1758–2002). Graellsia 60 (número extraordinario): 3–305.

Predators of the European Eocene

Among mammals in today's modern fauna, the role of terrestrial carnivore is dominated by members of one particular lineage, known (appropriately enough) as the Carnivora. But travel back in time to the Eocene period, roughly 56 to 34 million years ago, and you'll find a range of now extinct groups sharing that role. This post is looking at one of those groups, the proviverrines.

The Proviverrinae are a subgroup of the Hyaenodontidae, one of the two families of carnivores commonly associated as the creodonts. I've discussed creodonts before, and the overhanging question of whether they form a coherent evolutionary group. Currently, my impression is that most mammal palaeontologists seem inclined to think that hyaenodontids and oxyaenids probably do not share an immediate common ancestry. However, nor is there any clear idea of what else either group may relate to.

Skull of Cynohyaenodon cayluxi, photographed by Ghedoghedo.


Historically, proviverrines have been treated as the basal grade from which other groups of hyaenodontids were derived with representatives known from Europe and North America. However, a phylogenetic analysis of early hyaenodontids by Solé (2013) lead to a division of the 'proviverrines' between three monophyletic subfamilies: the Proviverrinae proper, the Sinopinae and the Arfiinae. Under this system, the Proviverrinae are a uniquely European group. As is standard in mammalian palaeontology, proviverrines (in the strict sense) are distinguished from other hyaenodontids by features of the teeth. Notable among these is the presence of a double root on the first lower premolar of most proviverrines; other hyaenodontids have a single root on this tooth.

The earliest proviverrines are known from the very beginning of the Eocene (Solé et al. 2014). Current thinking is that their ancestors probably immigrated into Europe around this time from Africa. The Late Paleocene Tinerhodon disputatum from northern Africa resembles a proviverrine in overall appearance but was probably more basally placed in respect to hyaenodontids as a whole. The name 'Proviverra' can be read as 'early civet' and while proviverrines were not related to modern civets (which are, of course, true carnivorans) this is probably not a bad indication of the overall appearance of their original appearance. These were very small animals, probably less than 100 g in body weight, and probably had a fairly generalised diet of small vertebrates and invertebrates. At first, proviverrines seem to have been restricted to southern Europe, what is now Spain and the very southernmost part of France. Northern Europe was inhabited by the Arfiinae and Sinopinae, as well as species of Oxyaenidae (the other 'creodont' family). Sinopinae were also found in southern Europe and may have excluded the proviverrines from evolving larger size. However, the other hyaenodontids and oxyaenids went extinct in Europe not to long after the beginning of the Eocene. A turnover in the mammalian fauna of North America around this time appears to be due to a cooling of the climate; though the evidence for climate cooling is less clear in Europe, it seems reasonable that it was going through similar changes. With their competitors out of the picture, the proviverrines rapidly diversified into the regions and niches that had been left unoccupied.

Lesmesodon edingeri, photographed by Ghedoghedo.


The largest proviverrines, members of the genera Prodissopsalis, Paenoxyaenoides and Matthodon, would eventually reach weights of close to twenty kilograms, about as large as a medium-sized dog. They would also diversify in their habits. Members of the genera Oxyaenoides and Paenoxyaenoides were cursorial hypercarnivores, their dentition specialised for a diet almost exclusively of meat*, like that of a modern cat. Matthodon and Quercytherium, in contrast, were genera whose dentition showed more adaptations for cracking hard materials such as bone. They may have had lifestyles more like those of hyaenas, with Matthodon (which combined adaptations for hypercarnivory and bone-cracking) perhaps being more of an active hunter than Quercytherium.

*These two genera also provide an excellent example of the role of convergent evolution in the evolution of mammalian carnivores. Their appearance to other hypercarnivorous hyaenodontids was such that it was only recently that they were recognised as proviverrines rather than members of other subfamilies no longer thought to have been found in Europe. And not only are they remarkably convergent on other subfamilies, the phylogenetic analysis of proviverrines by Solé et al. (2014) suggests that they're not even directly related to each other within that clade.

Proviverrines remained the dominant mammalian carnivores in Europe for about the next twenty million years but then went into a sharp decline. This reversal of fortunes may have been due to the increasingly cool, dry conditions developing at this time, and/or it may have been related to competition from the first true carnivorans arriving in Europe. The larger, more specialised proviverrines disappeared rapidly when their time came. The last surviving genus, Allopterodon, was a small form, little more than one kilogram in weight, and had a generalised dentition indicating a relatively unspecialised diet. This may have been a return to something like the lineage's original form but it would not save it: by the end of the Eocene, the proviverrines would be completely extinct.

REFERENCES

Solé, F. 2013. New proviverrine genus from the Early Eocene of Europe and the first phylogeny of Late Palaeocene–Middle Eocene hyaenodontidans (Mammalia). Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 11 (4): 375–398.

Solé, F., J. Falconnet & L. Yves. 2014. New proviverrines (Hyaenodontida) from the early Eocene of Europe; phylogeny and ecological evolution of the Proviverrinae. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 171: 878–917.

Anabaena

Way back in the day, back when blogging was actually a thing that people paid a modicum of attention to (as opposed to its current status as a way for old fogies to scream into the void), I used to have a link to this blog at some indexing/promotional site that advertised its coverage as including, among other things, "multicellular bacteria". Now, when one is considering micro-organisms, the line between 'multicellular' and 'colonial' is a vague one. Nevertheless, there are certain lineages of colonial bacteria in which individual cells within the colony may become differentiated in a way that renders them incapable of surviving on their own. A definite argument could therefore be made that such colonies have crossed the boundary into true multicellularity.

Light microscopy image of Anabaena circinalis at 400–600×, copyright Imre Oldal. The lighter coloured cells are heterocysts.


A particularly diverse such bacterial lineage is the heterocyst-forming members of the Cyanobacteria, the blue-green algae, of which the genus Anabaena is a widespread representative. Anabaena species grow as long strings of cells referred to as trichomes. These trichomes are often embedded within a layer of dense mucilage though Anabaena species lack the hard external sheath produced by some other cyanobacterial genera. The cells within a trichome are more or less spherical, cylindrical or barrel-shaped and are not differentiated from each other in such a way that a trichome could be said to have a 'base' or 'apex'. Trichomes may be planktonic or benthic, depending on the species. Benthic species are capable of slow movement and the cells at each end of a trichome are conical in shape. Planktonic species are immobile; the cells contain gas vesicles to provide buoyancy and those at the ends of the trichomes are not differentiated from the remainder (Boone et al. 2001).

The aforementioned heterocysts are specialised cells within the trichome of Anabaena species and related Cyanobacteria that are capable of fixing molecular nitrogen from the surrounding environment (trichomes growing in a medium providing a surfeit of previously fixed nitrogen will not produce heterocysts). The enzymes responsible for nitrogen fixation require the absence of oxygen to function and so heterocysts devlop a thick, multi-layered envelope outside the original cell wall. They also lose the capacity to conduct their own photosynthesis. As a result, the heterocyst becomes completely dependent on the surrounding cells in the trichome for the production of carbohydrates, supplying them in turn with nitrogen incorporated into amino acids (Golden & Yoon 2003). Anabaena species will generally have individual heterocysts separated by about ten to twenty photosynthetic cells; the heterocysts are most commonly at internal positions within the trichome though they may occasionally occupy a terminal position. One species usually included in Anabaena, A. azollae, lives in close association with the small, floating aquatic ferns of the genus Azolla. Anabaena azollae trichomes are contained within cavities on the underside of the leaves. Heterocyst formation is much more extensive than in free-living Anabaena with fully 20–30% of the cells being heterocysts. Developing sporocarps on the Azolla also become infested with A. azollae akinetes (thick-walled cells that act as resting spores) that are picked up by emerging embryos so the symbiont is transmitted down through the generations (Peters 1989). Because of this association, Azolla growth is often encouraged as a source of nitrogen for crops grown in water such as rice. Other Anabaena species, conversely, are less welcomed by humans due to their production of harmful toxins.

The advent of molecular studies of bacterial phylogeny has confirmed the integrity of the heterocyst-formers as a monophyletic lineage within the Cyanobacteria. However, the internal classification of this clade is far more uncertain. Though well recognised from a morphological standpoint, molecular studies have questioned whether the genus should continue to be recognised in its current form. A study by Gugger et al. (2002) comparing planktonic strains of Anabaena with another genus Aphanizomenon, distinguished by differences in cell and trichome shape, found that the two were well and truly intermingled genetically. Some of the features hitherto used in cyanobacterial classification may be affected by the environment. For instance, Anabaena azollae will, under certain conditions, produce hormogonia, small, motile chunks of trichome that function as disseminules. Hormogonia production is supposed to be a feature of another cyanobacterial genus, Nostoc, rather than Anabaena (and it is worth noting that other Cyanobacteria involved in symbioses with plants have been assigned to Nostoc) (Peters 1989). There is a need out there for an extensive investigation into the relationships of these genera, and maybe a thorough re-analysis of their definitions.

REFERENCES

Boone, D. R., R. W. Castenholz & G. M. Garrity (eds) 2001. Bergey’s Manual of Systematic Bacteriology 2nd ed. vol. 1. The Archaea and the Deeply Branching and Phototrophic Bacteria. Springer.

Golden, J. W., & H.-S. Yoon. 2003. Heterocyst development in Anabaena. Current Opinion in Microbiology 6: 557–563.

Gugger, M., C. Lyra, P. Henriksen, A. Couté, J.-F. Humbert & K. Sivonen. 2002. Phylogenetic comparison of the cyanobacterial genera Anabaena and Aphanizomenon. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology 52: 1867–1880.

Peters, G. A., & J. C. Meeks. 1989. The Azolla-Anabaena symbiosis: basic biology. Annual Review of Plant Physiology and Plant Molecular Biology 40: 193–210.

Algal Intrafamilial Strife

Most of you are probably familiar with the old adage that one should keep one's friends close and one's enemies closer. From a phylogenetic perspective, the red algal genus Plocamium has certainly achieved the latter.

Plocamium species growing on the coast of South Africa, copyright Derek Keats.


Plocamiaceae is a cosmopolitan family of marine red algae found mostly in temperate waters. They may grow in a variety of habitats from sheltered to exposed. Phylogenetic analyses have indicated that the family is somewhat distantly related to other red algal families, such that it is currently classified in its own order (Saunders & Kraft 1994). The great majority of the forty-odd known species of Plocamiaceae are currently placed in the genus Plocamium. These are reasonably sized seaweeds with erect or decumbent thalli that can grow about half a metre in length/height. They have flattened, complanately branched axes (that is, the branches are in the same plane as the axis they branch from). Branching is pectinate (comb-like) with each axis producing usually between two and six branchlets. The lower branchlets in a series are usually unbranched but higher ones will produce their own series of side-branchlets. In particular, the last branchlet will generally grow and overtop the axis it arose from to effectively replace it (as a result, the axis of the algal thallus will appear at first glance to have many more side branches than mentioned previously but can be seen on close inspection to have something of a zig-zag appearance representing the successive axes). The comb-like pattern of the branching is particularly evident in terminal branches of the thallus. In section, the axes have a disorganised cortex surrounding the central axial cells. Plocamiaceae have the standard triphasic red algal life cycle with gametophytes and sporophytes similar in outward appearance. Cystocarps appear to be more or less globular and borne along axial margins. Tetrasporangia are borne on the underside of modified branchlets called stichidia in a manner reminiscent of the sporangia of ferns (Gabrielson & Scagel 1989).

Close-up on terminal brachlets of Plocamium coccineum, copyright Fernan Federici. Some tetrasporangia-bearing stichidia are visible in the lower part of the image.


Only a few species have been described to date of the other genus of Plocamiaceae, Plocamiocolax. Though its reproductive anatomy demonstrates its relationship to Plocamium, Plocamiocolax is very different in its superficial appearance. It is a parasite, specifically a parasite of its sister genus. As such, they exhibit greatly reduced thalli and coloration. They grow on the host Plocamium as wartlike cushions, up to about five millimetres in diameter. As the cushion grows, it produces short, flattened projections that may be simple or forked. Tetrasporophytes may bear tetrasporangia on greatly reduced stichidia or on partially endophytic, verrucose patches.

Plocamiocolax pulvinata growing on Plocamium, copyright Michael Hawkes.


Parasitic forms that are closely related to the species they infect are referred to as 'adelphoparasites', meaning 'sister-parasites'. Adelphoparasitism is remarkably common among red algae: of over sixty known genera of parasitic red algae, about 90% are adelphoparasites (Salomaki & Lane 2014). One of the very first posts I ever wrote on this site was about red algal adelphoparasites, way back in...(gosh, really?...doesn't time fly when you're marching unceasingly towards oblivion...) It is possible that the regularity of this phenomenon is related to a distinctive feature of red algal development: the ability to open connections between adjacent cells allowing the passage of cytoplasm and organelles. Though the primary function of this process is presumably to facilitate the transfer of cellular products between cells of a single individual, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario where one individual hijacks another. The more closely related the adjacent cells, the greater the chance of an illicit connection succeeding. And succeeding multiple times. Though treated as a distinct genus, 'Plocamiocolax' lineages have apparently arisen within Plocamium multiple times (Goff et al. 1996). In some cases, a Plocamiocolax species proves to be the direct derivative of the Plocamium species they are found infesting. In others, a Plocamiocolax has arisen on one host species but later made the switch to another. Children are supposed to become independent and find their own way in the world, but sometimes the blighters just won't leave.

REFERENCES

Gabrielson, P. W., & R. F. Scagel. 1989. The marine algae of British Columbia, northern Washington, and southeast Alaska: division Rhodophyta (red algae), class Rhodophyceae, order Gigartinales, families Caulacanthaceae and Plocamiaceae. Canadian Journal of Botany 67: 1221–1234.

Goff, L. J., D. A. Moon, P. Nyvall, B. Stache, K. Mangin & G. Zuccarello. 1996. The evolution of parasitism in the red algae: molecular comparisons of adelphoparasites and their hosts. Journal of Phycology 32: 297–312.

Salomaki, E. D., & C. E. Lane. 2014. Are all red algal parasites cut from the same cloth? Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae 83 (4): 369–375.

Saunders, G. W., & G. T. Kraft. 1994. Small-subunit rRNA gene sequences from representatives of selected families of the Gigartinales and Rhodymeniales (Rhodophyta). 1. Evidence for the Plocamiales ord.nov. Canadian Journal of Botany 72: 1250–1263.

Air-breathing Limpets

For many people, the most familiar members of the gastropods are the terrestrial snails. Gastropods started their evolution as marine animals, breathing through gills, but members of one lineage would instead evolve their own version of a lung, a large hollow in the mantle cavity opening through a hole alongside the head called the pneumostome. Possession of this lung cavity would enable slugs and snails to thrive in the terrestrial environment but the structure had originally evolved in a marine context, and even today one may find marine lung-bearers occupying habitats along the coast. One such group is the siphon limpets or 'false limpets'* of the Siphonarioidea.

*You know, normally I don't overly concern myself with vernacular names. They are not regulated and not obliged to follow reason. But even so, the name 'false limpet' makes me grit my teeth. The name is presumably inspired by the fact that siphonariids are not direct relatives of the 'true' limpets of the Patellogastropoda. But the limpet morphotype, where the typical spiral gastropod shell is reduced to a simple cap, has evolved on multiple occasions. As well as the siphonariids and patellogastropods, there are the keyhole limpets of the Fissurellidae, the freshwater limpets of the Ancylini, and many others, all consistently referred to as 'limpets'. The name refers to a morphology, not to a clade, and by that measure the siphonariids are no more 'false' than any other limpets.

Flat siphon limpets Siphonaria atra, copyright Ria Tan.


Living siphonarioids are placed within a single family, the Siphonariidae, whose members with their cap-shaped, often radially ribbed shells are found in littoral environments in temperate and tropical regions of the world. A second family, the Acroreiidae, is recognised from the Cretaceous and early Tertiary; the inclusion of these smooth, thin shells in the Siphonarioidea is somewhat tentative (classification of limpets in the fossil record is always a challenge because their simple shell form renders them light on distinguishing characters). Siphonariids are readily distinguished from other living limpets by the presence of a groove on the underside of the right side of the shell marking the position of the pneumostome. In dorsal view, this groove is often indicated by an asymmetry in the outline of the shell with one side produced. The pneumostome is also associated with a broad gap in the ring of muscle holding the shell in place; the ring is more complete in other limpets. Seemingly as a result of this lower extent of muscle, siphonariids cling to their home rocks with less tenacity than other limpets and are mostly restricted to more sheltered locations (Simone & Seabra 2017). On the other hand, they do have a more flexible foot than their competitors, allowing them to potentially move more quickly. Like other limpets, siphonariids are grazers, scraping microalgae as they crawl about. Siphonariids have a weaker radula than patellogastropods and so scrape somewhat less forcefully; when members of the two clades occupy the same habitats, patellogastropods are generally the more abundant. The majority of siphonariids (where known) have planktonic larvae but some species are known to be direct developers.

Siphonaria lessonii, copyright Mikelzubi.


Obviously, the marine but lung-possessing siphonariids are potentially of great interest in understanding how the gastropod lung evolved. Many earlier researchers thought that the siphonariids may have evolved from terrestrial ancestors who had returned to the seashore but this is no longer thought likely to be the case. In most lunged gastropods, gas exchange is effected in the mantle cavity via dense blood vessels in the cavity wall but in siphonariids a gill structure is present within the lung (this lung-gill combination makes the siphonariids particularly well suited for moving freely both above and below the water surface). The gill of siphonariids is quite similar to that of the sacoglossans, a group of herbivorous sea-slugs. Though it was long presumed that the lung-bearing gastropods belonged to a single clade, more recent molecular phylogenies have confused the issue (Kocot et al. 2013). The sacoglossans are likely to be close to the ancestry of lunged gastropods as a whole, but it is possible that siphonariids are more closely related to the sacoglossans than the other lung-bearers. It remains an open question whether the siphonariid combination of lung and gill represents an intermediate stage towards the vascular lung of the terrestrial forms, or whether siphonariids and other lung-bearers each evolved their pneumostome from close but distinct ancestors.

REFERENCES

Bouchet, P., J.-P. Rocroi, B. Hausdorf, A. Kaim, Y. Kano, A. Nützel, P. Parkhaev, M. Schrödl & E. E. Strong. 2017. Revised classification, nomenclator and typification of gastropod and monoplacophoran families. Malacologia 61 (1–2): 1–526.

Simone, L. R. L., & M. I. G. L. Seabra. 2017. Shell and body structure of the plesiomorphic pulmonate marine limpet Siphonaria pectinata (Linnaeus, 1758) from Portugal (Gastropoda: Heterobranchia: Siphonariidae). Folia Malacologia 25 (3): 147–164.

The Colletinae: Going to Ground

In a recent post, I considered one of the families of short-tongued bees, the Halictidae. In this post, I'll turn my attention to members of one of the other short-tongued bee families, the Colletidae. Specifically, I'm looking at members of the subfamily Colletinae.

Mating ball of male ivy bees Colletes hederae, copyright Charles J. Sharp.


Members of the Colletidae differ from other bee families in that their glossa, the 'tongue' at the end of the proboscis, is apically bilobed or bifurcate. They are also distinctive in lining their nests with a plasticky, cellophane-like material. It has been thought that this material was made from dry saliva but the bulk of it is now known to come from a large gland in the abdomen that opens near the base of the sting (Almeida 2008). A nesting female will swallow droplets of the glandular secretion from her partially protruded sting then regurgitate it as she licks the wall of the nest cell. This waterproof lining both protects the cell from outside elements while preventing the loss of moisture from within. Many colletids, including colletines, leave the cell food provisions in a semi-liquid state; other bees whose nests are less watertight will dry and compact the provisions, presumably because the bulk of them would otherwise be lost before the larva hatched. In colletines, the egg is attached to the cell lining when laid, suspended above the provisions for the hatching larva to swandive into upon emergence. All colletids are solitary nesters with species nesting either in burrows in the ground or in hollows in vegetation; the majority of colletines are ground nesters*.

*One species, Colletes daviesianus, has apparently taken in Germany to boring its nests in the sandstone and mortar used in building construction.

Female Colletes daviesianus, copyright Donald Hobern.


In his 2007 edition of The Bees of the World, Charles Michener recognised five subfamilies within the Colletidae. The Colletinae were distinguished from three of these subfamilies by their retention of a covering of dense hair over the body (from the last subfamily, the Diphaglossinae, they differ in features of the glossa and wing venation). The hind leg of the female bears a well-developed scopa (dense arrangement of hairs for the carrying of pollen) on the femur and tibia with a corbicula (bare patch within the scopa where a ball of compacted pollen may be carried) on the underside of the femur. Hairiness is an ancestral characteristic for bees and phylogenetic studies have established that the Colletinae as recognised by Michener is a paraphyletic grouping (e.g. Almeida & Danforth 2009). As a result, it has been further subdivided with the name 'Colletinae' now restricted to what Michener had recognised as the tribe Colletini. As such, the Colletinae now includes just two genera of moderate-sized bees (seven to sixteen millimetres in length). The larger of these, Colletes, is found in temperate and tropical regions around the world except for the Indo-Australian region where it is notably absent. The other genus, Maurecolletes, is restricted to South America. One of the most distinctive features of Colletinae in the strict sense compared to other ex-colletines is the lack of the basitibial and pygidial plates, flattened and hardened plates possessed by other hairy colletids at the base of the hind tibia and at the end of the abdomen.

The absence of these plates is intriguing in light of the ground-nesting habits that seem to be the norm for Colletes (the nesting habits of Maurecolletes seem to be unknown). In other ground-nesting bees, the basitibial and pygidial plates are used to press the soil of the nest walls and opening into place. One would think this would mitigate against their loss. An explanation may be provided by the fact that some South American Colletes nest in the hollows of dead, pithy plant stems instead of in the ground, a characteristic shared with members of the less hairy colletid subfamilies belonging to the sister group of the colletines (Almeida & Danforth 2009). Ground-nesting Colletes species also bear noteworthy resemblances to stem-nesting colletids. Nest cells are closed with a layer of the cellophane-like wall membrane rather than the earthen plugs used by other ground-nesting bees. In many species, cells are lined up in a burrow divided by transverse partitions rather than placed in their own individual side branches. The possibility has been suggested that stem-nesting arose within the common ancestors of modern colletines and less hairy colletids. Ground-nesting in Colletes would then represent a secondary reversion by these species to the previous habit. When they did so, they retained the adaptations and habits that had originally been associated with their time in the twigs.

REFERENCES

Almeida, E. A. B. 2008. Colletidae nesting biology (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Apidologie 39: 16–29.

Almeida, E. A. B., & B. N. Danforth. 2009. Phylogeny of colletid bees (Hymenoptera: Colletidae) inferred from four nuclear genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 50: 290–309.

Michener, C. D. 2007. The Bees of the World 2nd ed. John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore.