Circle-tube experiments have been widely used to both examine nestmate recognition in social and solitary insects, as well as to characterise interactions in terms of agonism, cooperation, and avoidance. Despite their use in studies of halictid bees, carpenter bees, adrenid bees, and wasps, they have never been used to explore social interactions in the bee tribe Allodapini, where sociality varies widely in terms of complexity. Here, we investigate behaviours displayed within the highly eusocial allodapine Exoneurella tridentata and the facultatively social Exoneura robusta, using a standardised circle-tube apparatus. We present two broad and important results: (i) Discrimination between nestmates and non-nestmates is much more strongly expressed in the facultatively social species and (ii) principal components analyses do not indicate suites of behaviours that permit clear interpretations as being agonistic, cooperative, or avoidance. Our first set of results suggests that nestmate recognition is not an essential ability for social species. Our second set of results raise important questions about a priori functional categorisations of behaviours and whether these can be used to reliably classify observed behaviours as either avoidance, cooperation, or aggression. Our analyses highlight the risks of interpreting social insect interactions and call for a more cautious approach.
- Circle tubes