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Keywords:

  • Copulatory behaviour;
  • female choice;
  • fragrance exposure;
  • mating;
  • GC-MS;
  • orchid bees;
  • sexual selection;
  • territorial behaviour;
  • velvet area

Abstract.  Male euglossine bees (Apidae: Euglossini) collect volatile substances (fragrances) from floral and nonfloral sources and store them in hair-filled cavities in their hind tibiae. Over time, males accumulate large quantities of complex and species-specific blends of fragrances. Various hypotheses have been put forward to explain this behaviour, including the idea that fragrance stores reflect the genetic quality of individual males and have evolved through sexual selection and female choice. Clear support of this hypothesis is lacking, largely because male–female interactions are both rare and difficult to observe in nature. Here, we report a flight cage experiment performed in Panama that permitted mating between virgin females (raised from brood cells) and males captured in the forest at fragrance baits. In the cage, eight individually marked males defended small territories around vertical perch sites and showed a characteristic display, which included a previously unreported ‘leg-crossing’ movement, possibly related to fragrance release. A total of six copulations and three copulatory attempts by Euglossa hemichlora were observed and partly recorded on video. The copulations, all of which were initiated by the female landing on a male perch, were short (4–10 s) and showed no signs of the transfer of chemical substances from male to female. In some cases, the male hovered directly over the female before descending to mount her, possibly facilitating fragrance evaluation by the female. After the experiment, the contents of the males' hind legs were analysed by gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy, which detected complex mixtures of terpenoids and aromatics (totalling 70 different compounds) dominated by hexahydrofarnesyl acetone, farnesene epoxide, ocimene and p-dimethoxy benzene. Individual total amounts of fragrances were neither related to display activity or perch occupancy by given males, nor to the frequency of matings achieved. Display activity was the only positive correlate of mating frequency. Generally, individuals had uniformly large amounts of stored fragrances in comparison to a previous study of three other species of Panamanian Euglossa.