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Cuckoo bumblebees
Psithyrus insularis.jpg
Bombus insularis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Suborder: Apocrita
Superfamily: Apoidea
Family: Apidae
Subfamily: Apinae
Tribe: Bombini
Genus: Bombus
Subgenus: (Psithyrus)

see text

Cuckoo bumblebees are members of the subgenus Psithyrus in the bumblebee genus Bombus. Until recently, the 29 species of Psithyrus were considered to constitute a separate genus.[1] They are a specialized lineage which has lost the ability to collect pollen and to rear their brood. They have lost the worker caste and produce only sexuals, male and female. They are inquilines in the colonies of other bumblebees. Before finding and invading a host colony, a Psithyrus female will feed directly from flowers. Once she has infiltrated a host colony, the Psithyrus female will kill or subdue the queen of that colony and forcibly (using pheromones and/or physical attacks) "enslave" the workers of that colony to feed her and her developing young. When the young emerge, they leave the colony to mate, and the females seek out other nests to attack.

Female cuckoo bumblebees aggressively attack host colony members, and sting the host queen, but ignore other animals (including humans) unless disturbed.

Selected species[edit]


  1. ^ Williams, P.H. 1994. Phylogenetic relationships among bumblebees (Bombus Latr.): A reappraisal of morphological evidence. Systematic Entomology 19: 327-344.
  2. ^ Martin, Stephen. "Host Specific Parasites (Psithyrus) Indicate Chemical Recognition System in Bumblebees". Journal of Ecology 36 (8): 855. 
  3. ^ G K¨upper, Kh Schwammberger. Social parasitism in bumble bees (Hymenoptera, Apidae): observations of Psithyrus sylvestris in Bombus pratorum nests. Apidologie, Springer Verlag, 1995, 26 (3), pp.245-254.

Further reading[edit]

  • Michener, C.D. (2000). The Bees of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Macdonald, M. & Nisbet, G. 2006. "Highland Bumblebees: Distribution, Ecology and Conservation." HBRG, Inverness, ISBN 0-9552211-0-2.