Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Buzzy Situation

Hey guys,

Just a quick update in between revision notes. I was out in the garden to day checking on my plants, especially removing locust babies from my flowers (I found a couple of empty locust egg cases in the Garden earlier this week and we've been swamped ever since! I've already removed about 10 from the garden as of yet and still hunting) when I noticed a slight disturbance in the air above the lime-tree saplings that I am cultivating for my butterfly breeding. A swarm of insects for sure! But upon closer inspection I learnt that they were not just any insects, they were bees! And in their hundreds, buzzing away in no particular order, a cloud of winged furies circling a particular spot in the air. I wasted no time in getting my little digi-camcorder to film this. 

Now some of you must be thinking, how brave of him to go out during a bee-swarm, much less sit underneath it and take videos and while I would be more than happy to accept your praises of bravery I must say that I was never in any real danger to begin with. No, not because I have an innate affinity to bees, but rather, because these were stingless bees!

Closeup of a Stingless Bee
What? A bee with no sting?That's right, stingless bees are a member of a large group of bees. They all fall under the tribe of Meliponini or Melipones and are closely related to other bee species such as the honey bee, the carpenter bee, the orchid bee and the bumble bee. Although most bees do in fact posses stings (stingless bees included) the stings of stingless bees are higly underdeveloped and therefore not suitable to use in defense of the hive. As such, unlike her more feisty cousins, the small stingless bee is of absolutely no harm to the unsuspecting or unwary gardener who may accidentally disturb her on one of her pollen picking routes.

Doing My Part for the Environment.The stingless bees often form their hives in cracks in rocks or hollow logs. In the case of my Garden, the three stingless bee colonies that we have are all formed in the little cracks of the rock wall on the far side of the garden. I often encourage the formation of stingless-bee hives in my garden because bees are obviously a very crucial keystone to our ecosystem. One of the major pollinators in the world, bees are responsible for the growth of many commercial plants, flowers and vegetables. The stingless bee present a very welcome alternative to the honeybee in my garden because while I do want the benefits of bee pollination for the citrus plants in the Garden I most certainly do not wish to recieve complains of bee stings from the neighbours, nor risk getting stung myself!

Stingless bee-hive entrance with "honey
What about Honey?While it is a myth that all bees produce honeys, Stingless bees most certainly do! In fact in some parts of Australia, stingless bees are cultivated for the small scale production of honey. Much like her cousin, the Honey Bee (Apis Melifera), stingless bees posses large pollen sacks on the back of their leggs to enable them to transport floral pollen back ot their hives. Stingless bees also collect nectar, which is stored in an extension of their gut caled a crop. Back at her hive, the bee ripens the nectar by spinning them inside her mouthparts until honey is formed. Ripening concentrates the honey and increases sugar content. With the stingless bees, sometimes honey is so abundant that it leaks out from the opening cracks in the hive!

Entrance to a Stingless Bee hive
Bees normally swarm for various reasons, one of which is the natural reproduction cycle of the colony. A young queen, setting off into the strange new world to set up a colony of her own will often leave with an entourage of hundreds, sometimes even thousands of her sisters to help her establish a new life elsewhere. Bee societies are as such, that they operate like a superorganism and one individual bee cannot survive long on her own. And while a swarm of bees would naturally look threatening and scary, bee swarms (including honey bees and many other bees known to sting) are generally harmless as the bees are the least aggressive in this stage of their life-cycle. Ironically, you're more likely to get stung when there is just one bee.

Stingless bee workers (left) and their Queen (right)

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