Stingless Maya bees of Guatemala will either attack, or not bother you, depending on whether they know you, or not
This is a nest of Stingless bees, photographed by Dr Nicholas at Izabal in 2011.
It’s tough to find the nest of each insect, but we do find butterflies laying their eggs, and their impressive larvae. Often we have wasp nests on the windows (we ask the cleaning staff not to harm them). Finally one day tiny tiny little stingless bees made a nest in a hollow tube in the concrete wall separating our area from the adjacent house up the hill. The happy bees kept their nest for over a year.
These bees never once attacked any of us, since they soon learned we never attacked, or swatted, or used insecticide against them. Yet when we are out in the forests or jungle-like areas, even several meters away from a bee colony, they do a mass suicide attack on your head.
Invasion of Black Bees slaughter Meliponia
Then one day I noticed black stingless bees had invaded our colony. I watched in horror as thousands of attack bees slaughtered the cute tiny bees. The black bees were not large, but they were almost twice the size of the petite meliponia.
The attack bees dragged the (often still partially alive) bodies of the harmless bees out of the tube and dumped them on the ground to die. The attack bees then stole whatever they were looking for and about a week later abandoned the ruined hive.
Meliponia reestablish their nest
Much to my surprise a week or two later, I began to notice the original harmless meliponia bees begin to fly out of the tube. I asked Scott Forsythe, and he said that perhaps a few of the original bees were deep deep within their tunnel, and the invading black bees were content to pillage what was up front and easy to obtain.
There are a lot of bees in the Arroyo Pucte area of Peten, near the Rio de la Pasion (where we camp to study water lily plants).
Now, about eight months after the departure of the invading mass of black bees, the cute little meliponia are happily continuing to live their lives in the FLAAR gardens. Today I clipped away three leaves that were in their flight path (to leave the hive and reach the flowers elsewhere on the property). None of the bees attacked me.
What you can learn
Bees who do not know me, will do a mass attack instantly when I arrive to do photography of their nest. Being “stingless” does not mean not being successful attackers of humans. They attack in a suicidal mass, diving into your hair, ears, nostrils, and buzz down through your hair to your skin.
Tough to find the queen Maya bee! I did not wish to disassemble the bee structure to find her, so I photographed what was available on the surface.
This bee hive was inside a hollow tree trunk or branch. This is the traditional Mayan manner of keeping bees, especially stingless bees. You can also make a normal rectangular wooden box, but most local people in remote areas prefer to use a hollow trunk or branch (often the original tree where they found the nest…) Sadly this means the tree is chopped down to be able to bring the nest back to the person’s house).
Rio Ixbolay (also spelled Icbolay), in the yard of Don Chus (one of our long-time plant scouts). This is at the bridge over the river, along the new paved highway towards La Chua park, Alta Verapaz.
Bees which know me will not attach whatsoever. Comparable with wasps in the FLAAR garden, as you can see from this link.
Since people living in the USA, Europe and Africa have vicious stinging bees, we felt it would be helpful to show the world the cute stingless bees of the Mayan areas of Guatemala.
Especially if you live in Europe, your “exposure” to bees will be Maya the Bee, the comic and movie Maya the Bee. We prefer to introduce the real Maya, of Guatemala.
Two weeks ago another species of stingless bee began to build a hive in another drainage tube (two meters from the drain area hive of the teeny tiny meliponia). They built about 6 mm of “wall” but the weather was unseasonably cold, and they stopped, and never came back.