It would appear that cuckoo birds are not the only animal that has the nasty habit of laying its eggs in another animal's nest. A newly discovered species of bee has been observed to invade the nests of other bees while they're out collecting pollen. It's during this opportune time that the female members of these newly dubbed "cuckoo bees" lay their eggs in the hive. And because invader eggs hatch early, the immature bees are able to get rid of the host bee eggs — leaving the pollen and nectar reserves for themselves.

The discovery of the five new species of parasitic bees was made in in the Republic of Cape Verde by Jakub Straka of Charles University in Prague and Michael S. Engel of the University of Kansas. The islands are about 570 kilometers off the west coast of Africa, home to an abundant array of species — many of which have not yet been discovered. And in fact, there have only been 10 scientific expeditions to these islands in the past 150 years.

The cuckoo bees are zebra-like in appearance, featuring mostly black-and-white patterns. Some of the bees are actually quite large, including C. batelkai which measures 5 mm in length (compared to the others which range around 3.2 to 4.2 mm). The scientists believe that this is a classic example of "island gigantism" — an evolutionary effect where a the size of an animal isolated on an island environment dramatically increases over time relative to their mainland relatives.

The researchers are now hoping to explore the diversity of the cuckoo bees' hosts and get a better sesne of their evolutionary diversification across the archipelago.


Citation: Straka J, Engel MS (2012) The apid cuckoo bees of the Cape Verde Islands (Hymenoptera, Apidae). ZooKeys 218: 77. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.218.3683.

All images via Dr. Jakub Straka & Dr. Michael S. Engel.