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The first male bees spotted babysitting are mostly stepdads

The behavior may have evolved from males lurking to mate

KNOCK Mother bees have to do their own hunting for pollen and nectar in the Ceratina nigrolabiata species, but a male bee (shown) eager to mate with her will watch her young while she’s gone.

Scientists have discovered the first case of male bees babysitting, and it turns out that these males often aren’t biological bee dads but hopeful stepdads of the youngsters. Females of a small bluish-black Mediterranean bee (Ceratina nigrolabiata) dig out the pith of plant stems to make a nest, where a mom lays her eggs. Unlike honeybees, these are solitary bees with no colony of daughter-workers. Without that help, the mom herself must collect nectar and pollen to feed the young. But these are no latchkey larvae.

In 78 nests that researchers watched for 90 minutes, an adult male bee stayed in the nest’s entrance, rump outward, while the mom was out foraging. A male rear blocked a menacing ant that researchers put at the entrance in 41 attempted attacks. And in more than half of these attempted invasions, males pushed the ant out of the nest, says behavioral ecologist Michael Mikát of Charles University in Prague. When mom buzzes back with food, she scratches against the male’s rump, and he moves to allow her into the nest. Then he goes back to being a dad door, or rather, a stepdad door. In 265 nests sampled, only 29 percent of the babysitting males had fathered even one offspring that they were guarding, Mikát and colleagues report the week of March 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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