MELIPONICULTURE OF STINGLESS BEES
Stingless bees are closely related to the honeybees, bumblebees and orchid bees. Work with stingless bees is called meliponiculture. Stingless bees are amongst the longest evolved bees, and have been found preserved inside pieces of amber 80 million years old. Stingless bees developed before the continents drifted apart from each other. Therefore, they are present in all tropical parts of the world.
It is estimated that 400 to 500 different species of stingless bees are known, but new species are
identified every year.
The different species are diverse: their size ranges from two millimetres (e.g. the tiny sweet bees) to stingless bees slightly bigger than the European honeybee.
The number of bees a colony can contain ranges from some few hundred to more than a hundred thousand bees. This differs from species to species.
KEEPING STINGLESS BEES
Meliponiculture developed in Central and South America long before the European settlers arrived. During this period, the Indians obtained honey and wax from stingless bees. Subsequently honeybees were brought from Europe and, during the 20th century, from Africa. Elsewhere in the tropics, where stingless bees and honeybees are present, people have not developed management of stingless bees in hives, but simply harvested from wild colonies. The amount of honey from the stingless bees could not compete with the amount of honey from the honeybee, but honey from stingless bees is usually valued more highly.
Today meliponiculture is mainly found Central and South American countries, especially in Mexico asa heritage of the Mayas, and in NE Brazil.
Meliponiculture has developed from bringing log hives with bees’ nests inside to the home, or to special shelters. This practise is still most widely used in Central America. Eventually a nest is placed ina simple box of wood. Many local beekeepers do not know how to divide a colony even though it is quite simple. New methods have developed in Brazil, and this is named the Rational Hive. It is a hive made of wood, in a way so that it easily can be divided in two parts, each with half the brood and honey and pollen cups. The one hive part with bees inside is equipped with a new top, the other with a new bottom. If the two boxes are not equally strong, the weakest, or that without a queen is left in the old site and the other box is placed in a new place. Nest boxes can also be equipped with inspection “doors” so that it is possible to watch for new queen cells, if the colony is of the type that places the queen cells at the edge of the brood area. From a wooden box hive the honey pots can easily be inspected, and if ripe, placed on a strainer upside down or they can be harvested by a small vacuum pump or syringe. It is very important when using log hives or box hives, that every crack or opening except for the main entrance is carefully closed after opening of the hive. This can be done with clay or a mixture of clay and cow dung. If not, the bees can be attacked by other bees or enemies.
The ripe honey from stingless bees has higher water content than honeybee honey. Therefore, it may also have a higher antibiotic activity to prevent fermentation.
In laboratory tests, Melipona honey had a higher bacteria inhibiting effect than honey from honeybees.