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The Mayan bee, our native bee

Posted August 1, 2019

In the gardens, parks and forests of Guatemala, it’s common to appreciate the most famous pollinator: the bee. It’s likely that if you observe a bee, it’s Apis mellifera, which is also known as the domestic or European bee. It was introduced with the arrival of the Spaniards and has adapted very well throughout America. However, this is not our native bee.

acacia_cuaulote_Guazuma-ulmifolia
Apis mellifera, domestic or European bee.

Our native bee, Melipona beecheii, is a stingless bee, it’s commonly known as a Mayan bee, jicote or criolla. It’s a robust bee, like the European bee, 9-10 mm long, black, orange and with yellow stripes. It’s native to Mesoamerica, in Guatemala they live at elevations of 0-2000 meters above sea level in the departments of Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, Chiquimula, Quiché, Petén, Escuintla, Guatemala, Jutiapa, Retalhuleu, Sololá, Santa Rosa and Izabal(Escobedo, and others, 2017).

 

acacia_cuaulote_Guazuma-ulmifolia
Melipona beecheii, Mayan bee

 

The raising of this type of stingless bees is called meliponicultura and the Mayan bee is preferred because it produces a large amount of honey with medicinal properties.

More than 3,000 years ago, this bee was domesticated by the Maya. They used their honey, pollen and wax for nutritional, medicinal, commercial and religious purposes. In fact, two of the Mayan gods, Nohyumcab and Ah Muzencab are shaped like a bee (Villanueva, 2016).

acacia_cuaulote_Guazuma-ulmifolia
Melipona beecheii, Mayan bee. Tube-shaped entry to the nest

 

Some interesting facts about the Mayan bee are:

  • They live in a permanent hive.
  • They cannot move their hive or travel in the form of swarms.
  • They are highly social.
  • They do not have a functional stinger, so their defense mechanism is to bite and enter the nose and ears of their mammalian enemies.
  • Nest in cavities in trees or walls.
  • They also nest in exposed sites.
  • The entrance of their nests is a straight tube.
  • They are pollinators.
  • Its honey has medicinal properties.
  • They can live in greenhouses without being a danger to farmers (Guzmán, and others, 2011).
  • They are resistant to parasites and diseases that attack the domestic bee (Apis mellifera) (SAGARPA, 2011)
acacia_cuaulote_Guazuma-ulmifolia
Melipona beecheii, Mayan bee. Nest from a fallen tree

 

However, the populations of our Maya bee are increasingly declining due to deforestation, lack of interest in their exploitation, agrochemicals and the displacement generated by Apis mellifera since it’s a bee with greater flight capacity and pollen collection (Villanueva, 2016).

You can help conserve Mayan bee populations! How?

  • Learning more about the Mayan bee and sharing information with your friends and family.
  • Collaborating in reforestation campaigns.
  • Buying honey, pollen or wax of Melipona beecheii from local producers.
  • Buying agrochemical free products.
Melipona beecheii, Mayan bee, inside the nest

 

Bibliography on Mayan Bees

  • ESCOBEDO, Natalia, LÓPEZ, Jéssica, ENRÍQUEZ, Eunice, CONTRERAS, Valeska, ESCOBAR, Denisse, and Quebin CASIÁ
  • 2017
  • Distribución potencial de las abejas nativas sin aguijón (Apidae: Meliponini) de Guatemala ante posibles escenarios del cambio climático. Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala.

    Available online:
    https://digi.usac.edu.gt/bvirtual/informes/puirna/INF-2017-23.pdf

 

 

 



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