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We provide the first evidence for interspecific warfare in bees, a spectacular natural phenomenon that involves a series of aerial battles and leads to thousands of fatalities from both attacking and defending colonies. Molecular analysis of fights at a hive of the Australian stingless bee Tetragonula carbonaria revealed that the attack was launched by a related species, Tetragonula hockingsi, which has only recently extended its habitat into southeastern Queensland. Following a succession of attacks by the same T. hockingsi colony over a 4-month period, the defending T. carbonaria colony was defeated and the hive usurped, with the invading colony installing a new queen. We complemented our direct observations with a 5-year study of more than 260 Tetragonula hives and found interspecific hive changes, which were likely to be usurpation events, occurring in 46 hives over this period. We discuss how fighting swarms and hive usurpation fit with theoretical predictions on the evolution of fatal fighting and highlight the many unexplained features of these battles that warrant further study.

Original publication




Journal article


Am Nat

Publication Date





777 - 786


Aggression, Animals, Base Sequence, Bees, Behavior, Animal, Microsatellite Repeats, Molecular Sequence Data, Nesting Behavior, Queensland, Social Behavior