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28 July 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

            The Melipona Bee is a genus – one of two — of stingless bees. What’s a genus? Well, it’s the general division just above “species.” Honeybees are part of the genus “Apis.” Bumblebees are members of the genus, “Bombus.” The “Melipona” genus includes about 40 different species and all are “stingless bees.” But, let’s not get buried in classification names.

MELIPONA STINGLESS BEE

MELIPONA 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” 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 honeybees commonly kept in 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 varieties 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 the 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.

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