Visual adaptations for mate detection in the male carpenter bee Xylocopa tenuiscapa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Sexual dimorphism in eye structure is attributed to sexual selection in animals that employ vision for locating mates. In many male insects, large eyes and eye regions of higher acuity are believed to facilitate the location of females. Here, we compare various features of male and female eyes in three sympatric carpenter bee species, which include two diurnal species (Xylocopa tenuiscapa and X. leucothorax) as well as a nocturnal species (X. tranque-barica). In X. tenuiscapa, males have larger eyes than females, while in the nocturnal X. tranquebarica, males have slightly smaller eyes and in X. leucothorax, the eyes are of similar size in both sexes. X. tenuiscapa males detect females by perching near nest sites (resource defence) or along fly-ways and other open areas with good visibility. Males of the other two species search for females by patrolling. We postulate that the larger eyes of male X. tenuiscapa are beneficial to their mode of mate detection since perching males may benefit from a larger visual area of high resolution detecting moving stimuli across the sky, and which may be germane to the more social and gregarious nesting behaviour of this species, compared to the other solitary bees. We tested the performance of the eyes of male X. tenuiscapa behaviourally and find that a perching male can detect a flying female at a distance of 20 m, which darkens the visual field of a single ommatidium by just 2%. This, together with the bee's high spatial resolution permits detection of moving stimuli at least as well or even better than achieved by honey bee drones.


External organisations
  • Indian Institute of Science
  • Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Evolutionary Biology
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0168452
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Jan 1
Publication categoryResearch