28 July 2014
The Short Answer (TSA)
The “Dog Bee” (Tirgona spinipes) is a species of “stingless” bee and a member of the Trigona bee genus – one of two – composed completely of stingless bees. The “Trigona” genus includes about 150 different species.
Although many “stingless” bees are being studied for potential domestication and use in commercial beekeeping, the “dog bee” isn’t one of them. Why? Well, every family has a few relatives that are . . . unusual. And Brazil’s dog bee may be one of the oddest species of bees on earth.
The “dog bee” not only builds its nest on “human structures,” but builds its nest out of mud, resin, wax and . . . dung. Needless to say, no one really wants to eat this bee’s honey.
The “dog bee” may be stingless, but it has developed street-fighting techniques that allow it to more than defend itself. It doesn’t exactly find its own sources of food. Instead, this stingless bee terrorizes other bee species by picking-up their odor trails. What does it do when it finds the other bees’ trails? The dog bee kills or drives other bees away and steals their food sources.
Oh, and as a human being, you never want to make these “stingless” bees mad. But if you do, these bees won’t sting you. And, by the way, these bees don’t bite either. The first mode of attack will be to land on your head and crawl into you hair. Once “caught” or slightly “tangled” in you hair, they will begin to buzz as loudly as they can. Then, they get really serious.
When dog bees swarm a human being or animal, these bees intentionally fly into the potential victim’s mouth, nose and ears. It works too. People who live around these bees make “a wide circle” around their nests.
The dog bee stays in character when it comes to pollination. While most all species of bees are valued as pollinators, the dog bee is a notorious agricultural pest. Not only do dog bees not pollinate crops, but the dog bee actually goes out of its way to stop pollination by other varieties of bees. The bee does this by boring holes in the side of flowers and draining the nectar. This assures that the particular flower receives no pollen from the dog bee. Then, left without nectar, the drained blossom will be neglected by other pollinating insects.
After sabotaging the pollination of fruit crops, however, the dog bee does its one positive job. It pollinates onions. (Gee, thanks!)
Somehow, I get the feeling that if you mentioned the dog bee to other members of the bee family, they’d lie and try to tell you that the dog bee was a “wasp” or the member of “some other insect family.”
On the good side, if you can call it that, these bees do pollinate one crop: onions.
“Defensive” is the word used to describe the “touchiness” or “nervousness” of a group of bees with the close approach of humans or animals. Beekeeper are experienced with honeybees and experts at avoiding provocative behavior. But even beekeepers wear protective gear because a society or colony of the honeybees is not so different from a society of human beings. Occasionally, though rarely, a colony can get riled-up over just about anything.
So, wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a variety of bee that could produce honey and pollinate crops, but couldn’t sting? The “stingless” bees of the Melipona genus are being studied right now as a potential “stingless” candidate for commercial bee keeping. Unfortunately, Melipona’s are not good honey-producers in terms of volume. Melipona’s also pollinate a relatively small number of cash crops. Logically, the low honey production gave Melipona’s little to defend from potential honey robbers. So, these bees never developed the ability to sting because they didn’t need to.
But every family has some members that, well, are a bit on the odd side. The family of stingless bees is no exception. The trigona bee genus contains some of the strangest species of stingless bee.
What’s so important about “stingless bees?” Nothing . . . unless you are a beekeeper or the neighbor of a beekeeper. You may have seen one of those photos showing a beekeeper wearing a kind of screened suit and covered with thousands of bees. Well, together, those bees have enough venom to permanently “take out” a large group of people, not just the guy or gal wearing the screened suit.
Beekeeping is dangerous because bees sting.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to raise bees that don’t sting?
The many species of the genus Melipona don’t. You’ll find large populations of these stingless bees in the wild in Mexico and South America, most often Brazil and Argentina. These bees are, also, domesticated and “kept” in by commercial beekeepers. Since the bee’s tendency to sting is such a problem, why not import these stingless bees into the United States, Canada, and Europe?
Because . . . there are some other problems.
None of the Melipona species pollinate with the efficiency of the honey bees commonly kept in the North America and Northern Europe. Also, none of the Melipona species produce enough honey to be commercially valuable.
Bees can be quite sensitive to climate, and the colder winters of the Northern part of North America and Northern Europe have eliminated many otherwise extremely productive species from gaining any popularity among American and European commercial beekeepers.
Also, bees sting for a reason — defense. More dangerous and aggressive varieties of bees tend to produce more honey. Why? Because tough bees can defend their honey stores against tough honey robbers. Honey is quite popular and not just with human beings. Honey bears are quite real consumers of honey. So, how do these stingless bees defend themselves? They probably don’t have much defending to do. Stingless bees survived in their habitat just because they don’t produce enough honey to make their hives worth raiding.
Still a lot of work is being done to make commercial honey production with Melipona species more efficient and, so, more profitable. Also, bee breeders are studying the individual species of Meliponas with an eye to breed more efficient and specialized strains that, again, may be more commercially profitable as pollinators and honey producers.