PLATE XLVI, p. 401, fig. 78. Nest of Stingless Honey Bees.

A VARIETY of the honey bee without stings (to which fact their name is owing) has long been known to exist in South America. They also exist in Central America and Mexico.

Dr. Bevan, in his " Honey Bee," says:

" It was proposed a few years ago to import the stingless bees into this country " (England).

" If such bees there be, I very much doubt its ever being attended with success, as the fruits of their labor must very soon become a prey to wasps and bees of the country." The subject of introducing this variety of bees to the United States has also been proposed and discussed, by many of the public journals, within the last few years, but thus far without any practical results.

The following extract from Bevan's work is possessed of much interest in this connection : " The stingless bees are said to be inhabitants of Guadaloupe, Guinea, etc. ; but their existence requires confirmation, for an indisposition to wound affords no evidence of inability to do so. Queens were formerly supposed to have no sting. According to Sir J. G. Dalyell, there are bees in India that construct under the boughs of a tree a single comb of very large dimensions" The most interesting account of exotic bees that I have met with, is in Captain Basil Hall's highly instructive and interesting journal, written on the coast of Chili, Peru and Mexico, in 1820-'21 and '22, of which I shall here give a transcript.

" From the Plaza, we went to a house where a bee-hive of the country was opened in our presence. The bees, the honey comb, and the hive differ essentially from those in England. The hive is generally made out of a log of wood, from two to three feet long and eight or ten inches in diameter, hollowed out and closed at the ends by circular doors cemented closely to the wood, but capable of being removed at pleasure.

"Some persons use cylindrical hives, made of earthern-ware, instead of the clumsy apparatus of wood ; these are relieved by raised figures and circular rings, so as to form rather handsome ornaments in the verandah of a house, where they are suspended by cords from the roof, in the same manner that wooden ones in the villages are hung to the eaves of the cottages.

" On one side of the hive, half way between the ends; there is a small hole made just large enough for a loaded bee to enter, and shaded by a projection to prevent the rain from trickling in. In this hole, generally representing the mouth of a man, or some monster, the head of which is moulded in the clay of the hive, a bee is constantly stationed, whose office is no sinecure,[1] for the hole is so small, he has to draw back every time a bee wishes to enter or leave the hive. A gentleman state'd to me that the experiment had been made by marking the sentinel, when it was observed that the same bee continued at his post a whole day.

" When it is ascertained, by the weight, that a hive is full, 'the end pieces are removed and the honey withdrawn. The hive we saw opened was only partly filled, which enabled us to see the economy of the interior to more advantage. The honey is not contained in the elegant hexagonal cells of our hives, but in wax bags not quite so large as an egg. These bags, or bladders, are hung round the sides of the hive, and appear about half full; the quantity being probably just as great as the strength of the wax will bear without tearing. Those near the bottom, being better supported, are more filled than the upper ones." (Mr. Jesse, in his gleanings upon the authority of a naturalist residing in Demerara, states that the honey sacs in the lower tier rest on the floor, and resemble the broad-bottomed, long-necked bottles used in Holland.)

" In the center of the lower part of the hive we observed an irregular shaped mass of comb furnished with cells, like those of our bees, all containing young ones in such an advanced state, that when we broke the comb and let them out, they flew merrily away.

" The naturalist just referred to says, that these breeding-combs are suspended from the roof of the hive, in separate pieces, about two inches in diameter, and that the cells are on one side only. Captain Beechey states that these combs vary in their position, some being perpendicular, others horizontal ; and the bees being smaller than those of Europe, the brood cells, as might be expected, are smaller also. During the examination of the hive, the comb and the honey were taken out, and the bees disturbed in every way, but they never stung us, though our faces and hands were covered with them. It is said, however, that there is a bee in the country which does sting, but the kind we saw seem to have neithe'r the power nor the inclination, for they^ certainly did not hurt us, and our friends said they were always muy manso, i very tame,' and never stung any one. The honey gave out a rich aromatic perfume, and tasted differently from ours, but possessed an agreeable flavor. This honey does not readily ferment, but has remained perfectly sweet and grateful after its importation to this country."

Mr. A. J. Biglow, the well-known apiarist of Sacramento City, California, while on his return from the Atlantic States, with Italian bees, in November, 1860, procured nests of two varieties of stingless bees while on the Isthmus. He brought them home with him, but, unfortunately, all the bees of both were found dead on his arrival.[2]

Plate XLVI, fig. 78, represents a side section view of the nest of the variety alluded to by Bevan. aaa&YG horizontal tiers of brood cells, so arranged that the young bees are bred in a perpendicular direction with the head upwards, which is the reverse position of wasps, yellow-jackets, etc. b b are honey pots, composed apparently of resinous gum or propolis, with a portion of wax intermixed. Whether any of the substance is an animal secretion, is to me unknown. No allusion is made to this particular in any of the accoufc which I have had. The pots vary in size, averaging, however, about one inch in diameter and one and one-half inches in depth ; resembling, somewhat, an egg, with the large end downwards. They are of an irregular shape, but so joined together as to leave no space between them, and are placed so as to surround the brood cells. A portion of the pots are sealed up, while others are shown open at their tops.

The color of the brood cells is light brown, while the honey pots are dark brown. The honey is of a slightly reddish tint and musky flavor ; not as pleasant to the taste as common honey. This, however, is doubtless owing to the flowers from which it is gathered

as the honey gathered by the Italian bees during

Mr. Biglow's sojourn on the Isthmus, was of the same character.

The stingless bee is much smaller than the common bee, and resembles a fly almost as much as it does a bee. d represents it life size, and e the head separate. They are of a yellowish-gray color, having the rings of the abdomen striped ; the joints or folds being yellow and the centers of the rings gray. Their bodies are thickly set with fine down-like hair. I have made careful examinations, and find them to be without stings. As a means of defense, they resort to biting with th^l jaws, and darting at their enemy in a menacing manner.

This variety of bee doubtless might be made profitable in most of the warm latitudes. This nest was found within a recess in the wall of a stone building in the city of Panama. The room in which the nest was found, was also occupied by a family of the natives, who, together with the bees, entered by the same door. The space occupied by the nest was of a capacity of about eleven hundred cubic inches ; three-fourths of which was occupied by the honey pots, and the balance by the bees and brood cells.

The other variety of the stingless bee brought by Mr. Biglow, was about half the size of the foregoing. It, however, constructs its nest in a somewhat similar manner ; but it is mostly made of mud, instead of propolis and wax. This nest was taken from out of the iron railroad bridge spanning the Gatune River. They are mostly found built on trees.

Notes Edit

  1. If the Mexican bees enter the hives with1 as much rapidity, and in as great numbers as Reaumur states they do in this part of the world, it would indeed be no sinecure. He observes that the population of a hive amounts to 18,000, and that a hundred enter in a minute ; if as many go out in the same time, I think the sentinel must rather stand on one side of the entrance than within it. Captain Beechey states that it withdraws on one side to a recess adapted for the purpose, and that a Mexican family of bees is not believed to amount to more than one thousand.
  2. I am indebted to Mr. Biglow for his kindness in presenting the nests to me, for the purpose of having drawings taken and engravings prepared for this work.

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