Austroplebeia cassiae (Cockerell),

Dollin, Anne E., Dollin, Leslie J. & Rasmussen, Claus, 2015, Australian and New Guinean Stingless Bees of the Genus Austroplebeia Moure (Hymenoptera: Apidae) — a revision, Zootaxa 4047 (1), pp. 1-73: 54-60

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Austroplebeia cassiae (Cockerell)


Austroplebeia cassiae (Cockerell) 

( Figures 1 –17View FIGURE 1View FIGURE 2View FIGURE 3View FIGURE 4View FIGURE 5View FIGURE 6View FIGURE 7View FIGURE 8View FIGURE 9View FIGURE 10View FIGURE 11View FIGURE 12View FIGURE 13View FIGURE 14View FIGURE 15View FIGURE 16View FIGURE 17, 19–20View FIGURE 19View FIGURE 20, 22–25View FIGURE 22View FIGURE 23View FIGURE 24View FIGURE 25, 27–30View FIGURE 27View FIGURE 28View FIGURE 29View FIGURE 30, 32– 33View FIGURE 32View FIGURE 33)

Trigona cassiae Cockerell 1910: 247  .

Trigona  ( Plebeia  ) australis— Michener 1961: 5 (proposed synonym of Trigona cassiae  ); Austroplebeia cassiae  — Moure 1961: 195, 196, 197; Michener 1990: 96, 101, 105, 133, 134. Trigona (Plebeia) cassiae  — Michener 1965: 230;

Trigona symei Rayment 1932: 106  ;— Rayment 1935: 737 (more detailed redescription as new species). New Synonymy. Austroplebeia symei  — Moure 1961: 197; Michener 1990: 134.

Trigona (Plebeia) symei  — Michener 1965: 230.

Diagnosis. In workers and males, frons and mesepisternum with plumose hair ( Figs 22View FIGURE 22 e, 23 e, 25 b, d, f), head width ≥ 1.70 mm ( Figs 10View FIGURE 10, 14View FIGURE 14). In workers, HBW 0.35–0.44 mm ( Fig. 11View FIGURE 11). Most workers have the following characteristics: thorax markings Grades 0–2 ( Figs 5View FIGURE 5, 7View FIGURE 7), pronotal collar and legs without maculations, plumose hair on clypeus dense, integument barely visible among hairs ( Fig. 22View FIGURE 22 e), bristles on basitarsus III and scutellum brown. In males, gonostylus gently curved, thorax markings Grades 6 and 11–13, mesepisternum plumose hairs narrow and feather-like, with short closely set barbs ( Fig. 25View FIGURE 25 f), HBW 0.22–0.28 mm ( Fig. 13View FIGURE 13), HTL 1.19–1.29 mm ( Fig. 14View FIGURE 14). In queens, short dense hair covering T 4 –T 6 ( Fig. 27View FIGURE 27 a). Distribution QLD ( Fig. 28View FIGURE 28 d).

Description. As in general Austroplebeia  description, except for the following characters.

Worker. Body 3.4–4.5 mm. Forewing (including tegula) 4.1–4.7 mm mm. All other measurements are listed in Table 4.

Structure. Head width 1.70–2.01 mm, 1.2–1.3 x head length. Interocellar distance 1.4–1.7 x ocellorbital distance. Clypeus length 0.5 x width. Malar area 0.2–0.3 x basal mandibular width. Mandible preapical teeth more widely spaced than in A. cincta  and slightly more deeply incised than in A. essingtoni  or A. australis  ( Fig. 17View FIGURE 17 g). Scape length 0.7–0.8 x alveolus –lateral ocellus distance.

Scutellum length 0.4–0.5 x width. Wing venation similar to that shown in Fig. 18View FIGURE 18. First transverse cubital vein vestige present in 11 % of wings examined and slight trace in 69 % (n= 98). Vein M of forewing terminates at or before position of anterior end of first recurrent vein in 99 % of wings examined (n= 98). Cell second Cu of forewing completely indicated by pigmented vein traces in 79 % of wings examined (n= 97). Hamuli 5 to 6 per wing. HBW broad ( Figs 11View FIGURE 11, 19View FIGURE 19 h), 0.35–0.44 mm.

Sting rudiments. Gonostyli shoulder width moderately narrow, 0.11–0.13 mm. Apex of sting stylet broadly rounded or angular, occasionally with a narrowly rounded or acute protrusion. Sting lancet length moderately long, 0.28–0.34 mm ( Figs 15View FIGURE 15, 16View FIGURE 16 g).

Colour. Face markings usually Grade 3, ranging 1–4 ( Figs 1View FIGURE 1, 3View FIGURE 3). Thorax markings usually Grades 0–2, ranging 0–5 ( Figs 5View FIGURE 5, 7View FIGURE 7), Grade 2 maculations: 41 % brown, 59 % cream.

Other areas with cream markings: pronotal lobe (sometimes yellow-brown); sometimes labrum dull cream, tegula and tibia I with a cream spot. Scape, pronotal collar, metasoma and other leg segments without maculations.

Labrum yellow-brown, ranging dark brown to cream. Mandible: orange-brown medially, ranging red-brown to cream ( Fig. 9View FIGURE 9); dark brown to orange-brown apically. Scape dark brown, sometimes red-brown. Tegula red-brown, ranging black to brown, sometimes with a small cream spot. Basal and medial terga black to red-brown. Apical terga dark brown, ranging black to brown ( Fig. 9View FIGURE 9). Sterna ranging black to brown. Tibia I dark brown or red-brown. Distitarsus usually red-brown to orange-brown.

Pilosity. As in A. essingtoni  , with the following differences:

Face with numerous appressed short whitish plumose hairs (often worn thin on elevated areas) admixed with sparse erect simple hairs (ca. 50 Μm). Plumose hair on paraocular area and supraantennal area longer, wellbranched and dense, hiding most of the surface. Density of plumose hair on clypeus only slightly finer than that on paraocular area, in unworn specimens hiding most of surface and often obscuring upper margin of clypeus ( Fig. 22View FIGURE 22 e). Vertex bristles slightly brown or brown, 75–200 Μm.

Scutum short hairs ca. 50 Μm, longer hairs 100 Μm, lateral and anterior fringes, 150–225 Μm, hair colour varying from pale to slightly brown. Scutellum longer bristles usually brown and 100–300 Μm. Mesepisternum longer simple hairs up to 300 Μm. T 6 simple hairs up to 175 Μm.

In mature, fully coloured specimens: simple hairs of anterior and posterior corbicular fringes of tibia III usually slightly or distinctly brown, hairs on apical half of anterior fringe distinctly brown, penicillum and rastellum bristles brown, basitarsus III inner surface with coarse brown bristles, ranging from mid-brown to deep opaque brown.

Geographic variation. The extent of thorax colour markings in A. cassiae  was 0–4 % ( Fig. 10View FIGURE 10).

Average colony head width in workers was generally 1.72–1.90 mm. However, two colonies (Q 31, Q 32) at Conjuboy, QLD, had unusually high average head widths of 1.94–1.98 mm, the largest observed in this study ( Fig. 10View FIGURE 10).

In some colonies at the southern end of the A. cassiae  range, worker bees displayed mixed characteristics in thorax colouration, basitarsus bristle colour, clypeus hair density and HTW /HBW scores. For instance, those in colony D 46 had dark thorax colouration typical of A. cassiae  (0%), but had relatively fine clypeus hair and golden to slightly brown bristles on the inner basitarsus III that were similar to A. australis  .

Male. Body 4.0– 4.7 mm. Forewing (including tegula) 4.1–4.5 mm. All other measurements are listed in Table 5.

Structure. Head width 1.75 –2.00 mm. Interocellar distance 2.2–2.8 x ocellorbital distance. Clypeus length 0.5– 0.6 x width. Mandible preapical tooth weaker than in A. cincta  , similar to A. australis  ( Fig. 17View FIGURE 17 l). Scape length 0.7– 0.8 x alveolus –lateral ocellus distance. Flagellum relatively longer than in A. cincta  , flagellum length 4.1–4.5 x scape length.

Hamuli per wing 5–6. HBW moderate, 0.22–0.28 mm. HTW moderate, 0.43–0.48 mm ( Fig. 13View FIGURE 13). HTL long, 1.19–1.29 mm ( Fig. 14View FIGURE 14).

Terminalia  and genitalia. Graduli of S 3 and S 4 gently curved, but more acutely curved and almost touching antecosta in some males from Cape York, QLD. S 5 gradulus transverse and usually very close to or touching antecosta, apical margin smooth or slightly curved. S 6 with median body width variable but relatively broad and parallel sided or with slight medial constriction, apically pointed ( Figs 20View FIGURE 20 d –e, j, n). S 7 quadrangular, apical margin transverse (similar to Fig. 20View FIGURE 20 q). Gonostylus gently curved. Base of penis valve relatively broad and short (similar to Figs 21View FIGURE 21 c, e).

Colour. Face markings usually Grade 17, sometimes 18 ( Figs 2View FIGURE 2, 4View FIGURE 4). Thorax markings usually Grade 11, sometimes 6 or 12–13 ( Figs 5View FIGURE 5, 8View FIGURE 8).

Other areas with cream or yellow markings: ventral scape, labrum and pronotal lobe, all femora and tibiae; usually mandible, a spot on tegula, apical terga, sterna and basitarsi; sometimes trochanters and spots on upper edge of pronotal collar.

Scape dark brown to brown dorsally, cream ventrally. Flagellum red-brown to yellow-brown. Tegula redbrown, yellow brown or transparent, sometimes with a cream spot. Metanotum ranging dark brown to cream. Basal and medial terga black to brown. Apical terga cream, ranging red-brown to yellow ( Fig. 9View FIGURE 9). Sterna ranging black to cream. Unmarked areas of tibiae dark brown to yellow-brown.

Pilosity. As in A. essingtoni  , with the following differences:

Clypeus with an even layer of short fine plumose or simple hair ( Fig. 23View FIGURE 23 e). Vertex bristles, 100–275 Μm.

Scutum with numerous ca. 50 Μm and sparse longer simple hairs (ca. 125 Μm), up to 250 Μm laterally. Scutellum simple hairs up to 275 Μm. Mesepisternum plumose hairs narrow and feather-like, with barbs shorter and more closely spaced than in A. australis  ( Figs 25View FIGURE 25 d, f).

In mature, fully coloured specimens, basitarsus III inner surface bristles pale, golden or brown.

Surface sculpture. As in A. essingtoni  .

Queen. Body 4.5–6.6 mm. Forewing (including tegula) 4.1–4.7 mm.

Structure. HBW 0.23–0.29 mm.

Colour. Face markings up to Grade 3 ( Fig. 24View FIGURE 24 e). Thorax markings up to Grade 3.

Pilosity. Clypeus with moderate to dense simple hair, some plumose hair near apical margin. Scutellum bristles slightly brown to brown, and up to 425 Μm. T 1 –T 3 with sparse fine short hairs, longer coarse bristles on lateral and dorsal T 2 –T 5 generally absent. T 4 –T 6 with short dense hair ( Fig. 27View FIGURE 27 a), T 6 with an apical fringe of long (up to 325 Μm) simple hairs. Basitarsus III inner surface bristles golden to brown.

Material examined. Holotype of Trigona cassiae  : ( BMNH 17 b. 1137, worker), labelled as follows: “ Type (red border), “B.M. TYPE / HYM. / 14 B. 1137, “ Trigona  / cassiae  / Ckll TYPE, “Turner Coll. / 1912 – 111, “Mackay / 12.99 / Cassia  , 900.

Provenance of types: Rowland Edwards Turner (1863–1945) and/or his brother, Gilbert Turner (ca. 1866– 1903), collected the T. cassiae  holotype (“Turner, 900) in December 1899 in Mackay, QLD, from flowers of Cassia (Leguminosae)  . Cockerell (1930) documented the intensive collecting work of the Turner brothers. The Turner collection of Australian bees was deposited in the BMNH where Cockerell examined and later borrowed it. The holotype is still in BMNH.

According to the type description ( Cockerell 1910), a male was also collected from the same location by Turner in November 1891 (“Turner, 318). However, this specimen could not be found in the BMNH collection nor their database (D. Notton, pers. comm., 2015).

Holotype of Trigona symei  . ( ANIC, worker), labelled as follows: “ TYPE, “ Trigona  / symesi Raym / NT. QUEENS, “ AUST. NAT. / INS. COLL.

Provenance of type: According to the detailed species redescription in Rayment (1935), the T. symei  holotype was collected in 'North Queensland'. The exact locality and the collector are unknown. Rayment dedicated this new species to Geoffrey Syme of Melbourne, in appreciation for his interest in preserving the fauna and fauna of Victoria. This may have been Sir Geoffrey Syme (1873–1942), the Melbourne newspaper proprietor. The holotype is in ANIC.

Other worker and male specimens examined. Queensland: Nest samples, collected by AED & LJD except where otherwise stated: Cape York near Bamaga, Aug 1983 (Nest F3, 20 workers; Nest F6, 20 workers, 6 males; Nest F32, 20 workers, 6 males); Cape York on Jardine River, Aug 1983 (Nest F43, 20 workers, 5 males; Nest F44, 20 workers, 1 male); Coen, 25 Aug 1983 (Nest F47, 20 workers, 1 male); Alec Springs, 15 k N of Strath-Haven Station, Nest G 13 (5 workers); Laura, 21 Feb 1982 (Nest Q22, 20 workers); 5 k S Rossville: Jun 2010 (Nest D12, 9 workers, 1 male, L. Roberts); Nov 2012 (Nest D18, 20 workers; Nest D19, 20 workers; Nest D21, 20 workers; Nest D22, 20 workers; Nest D24, 14 workers); Koolatah Station, 23–24 Sep 1998 (Nest M18, 20 workers; Nest M19, 20 workers, 2 males; Nest M20, 5 workers; Nest M21, 19 workers); 15 k NW of Dunbar Station, 24 Aug 1990 (Nest G7, 20 workers; Nest G9, 15 workers); Conjuboy, Feb 1982 (Nest Q31, 9 workers; Nest Q32, 20 workers); Rockhampton, 7–8 Sep 1996 (Nest C14, 20 workers; Nest C17, 20 workers; Nest C28, 29 workers; Nest C29, 11 workers); Duaringa, Sep 1987 (Nest N23, 20 workers, 15 males); 17–22 Oct 1987 (all by E. Adams: Nest N24, 8 workers; Nest N25, 9 workers; Nest N26, 11 workers), 15 Nov 1987 (Nest N31, 10 workers, E. Adams), 10–12 Sep 1996 (Nest C31, 20 workers; Nest C36, 20 workers; Nest C37, 20 workers; Nest C38, 5 workers; Nest C42, 20 workers; Nest C43, 20 workers), 12 Oct 1996 (Nest C58, 20 workers); Bororen, 8 Sep 1990 (Nest G34, 5 workers); Gin Gin, 18–21 Oct 1996 (Nest C79, 12 workers, 3 males; Nest C91, 10 workers); from Rainbow Beach but kept at Ipswich, Sep 2013 (all by C. Heather: Nest D36, 18 workers; Nest D45, 21 workers; Nest D46, 16 workers; Nest D47, 15 workers).— Samples collected from flowers: 61 k N Coen. 2 Nov 1988, K Walker, NMV, 1 worker; McIlwraith Range, 30 k E Coen, 3 Nov 1988, K Walker, NMV, 2 workers, 25 k E Coen, 12 Nov 1988, K Walker, NMV, 1 worker; 13 k SE Coen, 1 Nov 1988, K Walker, NMV, 2 workers; 45 k S Coen, 30 Oct 1988, K Walker, NMV, 1 worker; Silver Plains, 55 k SE Coen, 1 Nov 1988, K Walker, NMV, 3 workers, 42 k SE Coen, 1 Nov 1988, K Walker, NMV, 1 worker; 27 k SE Coen, 13 Nov 1988, K Walker, NMV, 5 workers; 28 k S Cooktown, 15 Nov 1988, K Walker, NMV, 3 workers; Mt Carbine, 27 Oct 1988, K Walker, NMV, 1 worker; 30 k N Normanton, 21 Aug 1990, AED & LJD, GS- 10: 8 workers; 20 k E Georgetown, 17 Aug 1990, AED & LJD, GS- 5: 4 workers; 66 k S Townsville, 17 Apr 2005, M Batley, AMS, 1 worker; 10 k S Bowen, 14 Feb 1982, AED & LJD, QS- 5: 8 workers; Halliday Bay, 50 k NW Mackay (label states ' 50 k NE Mackay'), 19 Sep 1983, NW Rodd, AMS, 2 workers; 36 k N Clairview, 20 Apr 2005, M Batley, AMS, 1 worker; 14 k SW Rainbow Beach, 23 Jan 2006, M Batley, AMS, 1 worker.

Queen specimens examined. Nest samples collected by AED & LJD, 18 queens: Queensland: Cape York near Bamaga, Aug 1983 (Nest F6, 2 virgin; Nest F32, 1 gravid, 8 virgin); Cape York on Jardine River, Aug 1983 (Nest F43, 1 gravid; Nest F44, 1 virgin); Conjuboy, Feb 1982 (Nest Q32, 1 gravid); Duaringa, Sep 1987 (Nest N23, 1 gravid, 2 virgin), 10–12 Sep 1996 (Nest C37, 1 virgin).

Remarks. The Austroplebeia  populations with the darkest colouration (Thorax Grades predominantly 0–2, Fig. 5View FIGURE 5) were called the 'symei' group in our preliminary studies ( Halcroft et al. 2015), because the species name currently in common use for these colonies in QLD is A. symei  . However, the present study has concluded that the names A. cassiae  and A. magna  sp. nov. should be used for these populations in QLD and NT respectively.

The A. cassiae  and A. symei  holotypes. The A. cassiae  holotype was collected by Turner in 1899 at Mackay, QLD. This locality is near the centre of the QLD 'symei' group distribution ( Fig. 28View FIGURE 28 d). With a large HBW of 0.41 mm ( Fig. 11View FIGURE 11; Table 4), the A. cassiae  holotype is consistent with the QLD 'symei' group. Most of the clypeus pilosity is contaminated but it appears dense.

The A. cassiae  holotype specimen is now discoloured. The scutum and head, normally black, are reddish brown, rendering scoring of colour maculations unreliable. However, in his type description, Cockerell (1910) provided a quite detailed account of its original colouration. He stated that the specimen was 'very like [ Tetragonula  ] carbonaria  '—a very dark species without any cream maculations. He noted that the axillae were black and the scutellum had a broad dusky yellow band: equivalent to Thorax Grade 2 in this study. He added that the hair on the scutellum was 'fuscous' (or very dark brown). These characteristics all suggest that the A. cassiae  holotype belongs to the QLD 'symei' group.

The holotype of A. symei  is also consistent with the QLD 'symei' group in both colouration (Face Grade probably 4, Thorax Grade 2, Figs 1View FIGURE 1, 3View FIGURE 3, 5View FIGURE 5, 7View FIGURE 7) and structure ( Fig. 11View FIGURE 11; Table 4). Furthermore it has dense hair on the clypeus, and dark bristles on the vertex, scutellum and inner basitarsus III, all characters consistent with the QLD 'symei' group. Its eyes are collapsed, preventing a meaningful head width measurement. It was collected in north QLD within the distribution of the QLD 'symei' group ( Fig. 28View FIGURE 28 d).

We consider that the holotypes of both A. cassiae  and A. symei  both belong to the QLD 'symei' group. As A. cassiae  was described 22 years before A. symei  , we conclude that the name of the QLD 'symei' group bees, by priority, should be A. cassiae  .

The male Turner specimen described by Cockerell. In his type description, Cockerell (1910) also included a male specimen that was collected by Turner in November 1891. It was from Mackay, QLD, the same locality as the holotype, but was collected eight years earlier. We were unable to locate this specimen.

Cockerell described this male as “scutellum not pale banded”. All A. cassiae  males examined in the present study had prominent cream or yellow maculations on the dorsal scutellum (Grades 6–13, Figs 5View FIGURE 5, 8View FIGURE 8, 25View FIGURE 25 d). So it is unlikely that this Turner male actually belonged to the species A. cassiae  . Instead it may have belonged to the Tetragonula  , Australia's other genus of stingless bees, in which the males lack cream maculations.

Earlier synonomy of A. cassiae  and A. australis  names. Another complication with the Austroplebeia  nomenclature is that A. cassiae  has sometimes been regarded as a junior synonym of A. australis  . Michener (1961) discussed colour distinctions proposed by Cockerell (1930) then informally synonymised A. cassiae  with A. australis  . This synonymy was mentioned again in Wille & Michener (1973), but the two species were listed separately in Michener (1965, 1990) and Cardale (1993).

Cockerell (1930) had cited the description in Friese (1898) of the red-brown clypeus and yellow mandibles of A. australis  . He suggested that these characters could be used to distinguish A. australis  from A. cassiae  . However, Michener (1961) found that the colouration of the clypeus and mandibles was variable. Hence he suggested that A. cassiae  was a synonym for A. australis  .

This study agrees with Michener (1961) that the colour of the clypeus and mandibles varies substantially within both species ( Fig. 9View FIGURE 9). It is not possible to separate A. cassiae  and A. australis  using these characters. However, this study has also shown that the A. cassiae  holotype belongs to QLD populations that do differ markedly from A. australis  in structure ( Figs 11View FIGURE 11, 15View FIGURE 15), pilosity ( Figs 22View FIGURE 22 d –e, 25 e –f) and thorax colouration ( Figs 7View FIGURE 7, 10View FIGURE 10). Hence A. cassiae  and A. australis  should be regarded as distinct species.

Workers with mixed characteristics in southern QLD. Austroplebeia cassiae  was observed to retain distinct characteristics in a large, long-established sympatric population with A. australis  near Duaringa in central QLD ( Fig. 12View FIGURE 12). However, as reported above, workers in some A. cassiae  colonies in southern QLD displayed mixed characteristics in colouration, pilosity and structure. Some of these colonies had been transported into an area predominantly populated by A. australis  and maintained there for some time prior to being sampled. Brito et al. (2014) reported some artificial hybridisation between closely related Australian Tetragonula  species, which may have been facilitated by anthropogenic colony movements. Such mechanisms may also be contributing to the mixed characteristics observed in some A. cassiae  colonies in southern QLD.

......continued on the next page *Variables: As given in Table 2.

Other than the types, the following worker specimens were measured. A. cassiae  , N= 16, from nests C 37 (4 x), F 6 (4 x), M 19 (4 x), Q 32 (4 x). A. magna  , N= 12 unless otherwise stated, from nests N 1 (4 x), N 8 (4 x), D 65 (2 x), D 66 (2 x).

TABLE 4. Structural dimensions from workers of A. cassiae and A. magna sp. nov. Measurements in mm. A " – " indicates that measurements were not available.

        A. magna  sp. nov. Holotype Paratype 4.01 4.01  
      1.85 0.08 1.52 0.06 1.22 0.06    
      1.17 0.05 1.27 0.05 1.01 0.05    
      0.16 0.01 0.42 0.02 0.27 0.01    
      0.20 0.01 0.77 0.04 0.17 0.02    
      0.39 0.02 0.78 0.04 0.97 0.03    
      0.07 0.02 0.31 0.03 1.26 0.06    
      0.62 0.03 0.12 0.01 0.14 0.02    
      0.11 0.01 0.17 0.01 0.11 0.01    
      0.15 0.01 0.12 0.01    

Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco


Australian National Insect Collection


Museum Victoria














Austroplebeia cassiae (Cockerell)

Dollin, Anne E., Dollin, Leslie J. & Rasmussen, Claus 2015

Trigona (Plebeia) symei

Michener 1965: 230


Michener 1990: 96
Michener 1965: 230
Michener 1961: 5
Moure 1961: 195

Trigona symei

Michener 1990: 134
Moure 1961: 197
Rayment 1935: 737
Rayment 1932: 106

Trigona cassiae

Cockerell 1910: 247