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A New Name for our Trigona Stingless Bees:

It's Official:
Our Australian Trigona stingless bees have been given a new name. From now on their name will be Tetragonula.

For instance,
-- Trigona carbonaria, will now be called Tetragonula carbonaria; and
-- Trigona hockingsi will be called Tetragonula hockingsi.

This name change does NOT affect any of the species in the Austroplebeia genus. So the names of species such as Austroplebeia australis will remain unchanged.

Twenty years ago, American bee expert, Professor Charles Michener, proposed a classification for the world's stingless bees that has been largely followed in Australia. In this classification, the old genus Trigona was a massive one. It included over 100 species from America (from Mexico right down to Argentina), Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia, and westwards to India.

However, DNA studies in recent years showed that the Trigona bees in our region were sufficiently different from other stingless bees worldwide to deserve their own names.

Importantly, though, someone needed to systematically review all the species in the whole genus, in the light of all the latest research, and draw up a plan to show how the new names should be applied.

Now this has been done! A major new reference book on stingless bees was published in January 2013 called 'Pot-honey: a legacy of stingless bees.' Professor Michener contributed a chapter to this book in which he outlined a new classification for all the stingless bees, based on current scientific knowledge.

In this new classification, the large genus Trigona has been split up into nine smaller genera and our Australian Trigona bees have all been placed in a genus called Tetragonula.

tetragonula carbonariaSo the names of Australia's six Trigona species have become:

Tetragonula carbonaria
Tetragonula clypearis
Tetragonula davenporti
Tetragonula hockingsi
Tetragonula mellipes
Tetragonula sapiens

Genus Tetragonula also includes 30 other stingless bee species that are found in other countries in our region, such as New Guinea, Indonesia, The Philippines, The Solomon Islands, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.

This genus name, Tetragonula, was first proposed in 1961 by the Brazilian bee expert, Professor JS Moure. It was part of a major alternative classification system, in which Professor Moure divided the Trigona stingless bees into about 20 genera.

The relevant section of Professor Michener's article (Chapter 1: pages 4 - 8) has been included in a free preview of the 'Pot-honey' book that you can see on the Amazon website.
Read Professor Michener's article in the free preview.

So it is time to start using to this new name for our Aussie Bees! We have already begun changing Trigona to Tetragonula throughout the Aussie Bee website. We will progressively update the name in all or our articles and publications.

Getting used to a new name is never easy. However, it is great to have a name for our Tetragonula stingless bees that recognises their distinctive characteristics.

Further Reading

Michener CD (1990) Classification of the Apidae (Hymenoptera). The University of Kansas Science Bulletin 54: 75-164

Michener CD (2007) The bees of the world. Second edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore

Michener CD (2013) The Meliponini. In: Pot-honey: a legacy of stingless bees. Vit P. Pedro SRM and Roubik D (eds) Springer, New York. Chapter 1, pp 3-18

Moure JS. (1961) A preliminary supra-specific classification of the Old World Meliponine bees (Hymenoptera, Apoidea). Studia Entomologica 4: 181-242

Rasmussen C and Cameron AC (2007) A molecular phylogeny of the Old World stingless bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Meliponini) and the non-monophyly of the large genus Trigona. Systematic Entomology 32: 26-39

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Author: Anne Dollin
(See Anne Dollin's Google+ profile)

© 2013 Australian Native Bee Research Centre
PO Box 74, North Richmond NSW 2754, Australia