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Stingless Bees: An Overview

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Stingless Bees

Part of the book series: Fascinating Life Sciences ((FLS))

Abstract

The tropics and subtropics are home to thousands of different types of bees. One bee group that frequently calls an observer’s attention are the stingless bees or Meliponini. In the Neotropics, for example, about half of all bees that one is likely to see on flowers belongs to this group (Chap. 9). Stingless bees can be smaller than a fruit fly or as large as the giant honey bee Apis dorsata. Like honey bees (Apini), stingless bees live in colonies and produce honey. They are potential pollinators of thousands of plant species and play important roles in human cultures. Like many other animals, stingless bees face new challenges in an increasingly human-modified world, including large-scale habitat loss, the widespread use of agrochemicals, climate change and introduced species, all of which put pressure on stingless bee populations (see Sect. 1.9).

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Notes

  1. 1.

    About 78% deal with honeybees and about 16% with bumble bees, based on a search in Web of Science in January 2020. Search terms were (1) Apini/honeybees/honey bees, (2) Bombini/bumblebees/bumble bees and (3) Meliponini/stingless bees/stingless bee.

  2. 2.

    See Quintal and Roubik (2013) for a short history of stingless bee research.

  3. 3.

    For more detailed descriptions of the morphology of different genera, see literature provided in Chap. 2, Sect. 2.4.

  4. 4.

    Stingless bees show considerable variation in the number of chromosomes, ranging from 8 to 18 (present as pairs in workers and queens, 2n = 16–36) (Tavares et al. 2017; Travenzoli et al. 2019).

  5. 5.

    There is an unusual kind of honey bee in Africa, the Cape honey bee Apis mellifera capensis that has solved this problem. Workers in this sub-species are able to produce other females asexually in a process called parthenogenesis (Goudie and Oldroyd 2014).

  6. 6.

    The average worker length of 1.97 mm (Koch 2010) is similar or slightly smaller compared to Perdita minima and Quasihesma clypearis females (Exley 1980), other candidates for the title of smallest known bee.

  7. 7.

    Some characteristics of stingless bee honey, e.g. the high water content, mean that in some countries pot-honeys do not fulfil the official norms of what can be called “honey” (see the Codex Alimentarius of the FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme). The legal standards are often set with Apis mellifera honey in mind (Vit et al. 2004; Alves 2013; Vit 2013).

  8. 8.

    These flavonoids and phenolics might be leaking into the honey from the cerumen pots (Heard 2016).

  9. 9.

    von Ihering (1903, pp. 271–272) does not identify the species, but speculates that the most likely candidate is Lestrimelitta (see also Nogueira-Neto 1997, pp. 289 and later for further examples).

  10. 10.

    The 1960 paper is largely a translation of their 1958 paper, which was in German.

  11. 11.

    The first report in the European literature on stingless bees and how they were used by humans appeared in “Warhaftig Historia” published 1557. In it, the German mercenary Hans Staden described how the Brazilian Tupinambá tribe that held him captive for many months regularly collected stingless bee honey for consumption (Engels 2009, 2013).

  12. 12.

    Tomás López Medel, who was a government official in Yucatán in the 1550s wrote about beekeeping and honey production by the Mayans in his treatise De los tres elementos: “There is no part of the Indies, nor do I believe Spain, where as much honey and wax are produced as in the province of Yucatán, and therefore the Indians and natives of those provinces […] are not content with honey and wax brought from the mountains and common places, but also have many hives in their houses and other places.” (from Źrałka et al. 2018).

  13. 13.

    Data from https://www.globalforestwatch.org/

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Grüter, C. (2020). Stingless Bees: An Overview. In: Stingless Bees. Fascinating Life Sciences. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-60090-7_1

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