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ScienceShot: Guard Bees Bulk Up

Most bee species are masters-of-all-trades; they divvy up jobs in the hive based on age, moving through a cycle of occupations as they grow older. But in the Brazilian stingless bee (Tetragonisca angustula), commonly known as jataí, careers are based on body size and shape instead, according to a new study, a phenomenon that's only been seen in termites and ants. Jataí that guard the nest of a colony from robber bees and other invaders—by both hovering nearby and standing on the entrance (as seen above)—are physically distinct from those that perform other tasks, such as removing waste from the hive or foraging for food. The guards have larger overall bodies, smaller heads, and larger hind legs compared to body size than other worker bees. In staged fights between jataí guards and robber bees, the bigger jataí lasted longer, researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But in the case of a large attack, other bee species may have an advantage as they can quickly "hire" more guards from their ranks, while jataí have to wait for new guards to be born.

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