Genetically engineering the perfect bee – in 1892

Black and white image of apiary in orchard.

(Scientific American) “It is said that there are at least two distinct races of stingless bees in South America, but these races have not much value as honey gatherers, and moreover they build combs with very thick-walled cells, and probably they would not be worth cultivating as compared with the European, Asiatic and African races. But if we can cross our bees with the giant bees of India and obtain a race with a long proboscis and perhaps increased size (if that should prove to be of any advantage), and cross this improved race with the South American stingless bees, we shall then have a race of bees which it will be difficult to improve.”

Bees in Amazon ‘are greatest ally to halt rainforest destruction’

Image of indigenous person looking at forest.

(The Guardian) “Bees are everything to me. They help me to protect the forest. They help the trees to stand tall, to produce fruit and to be strong.” The hives of stingless Amazonian bees are not just a hub of pollination, they are also the most economically viable alternative to the environmentally destructive traditions of slash-and-burn agriculture and cattle ranching.

Stingless bee species depend on a complex fungal community to survive

Image of stingless bee.

(FAPESP) A new study shows that the larvae of the Brazilian stingless bee Scaptotrigona depilis depend on interactions between three different species of fungus to complete their development and reach adulthood. “The new findings demonstrate that the interactions between these social insects and their microbiota are much more complex than we can imagine. This should serve as a warning against the indiscriminate use of pesticides in agriculture, since many are lethal to fungi.”

Caffeine does not influence stingless bees

Image of stingless bees at feeder.

( Mainz) Caffeine is a compound present in various plant species and is known to stimulate the central nervous system of honey bees as well as humans. Some plants add caffeine to their nectar with the aim of manipulating the activity of pollinators. However, caffeine does not appear to influence the behavior of a stingless bee that is a main pollinator of coffee plants.

An unlikely feud between beekeepers and Mennonites simmers in Mexico

Image of beekeepers with hives in jungle.

(National Geographic) Since the 1930s, Maya beekeepers have made the Yucatán into a world-class honey producer. But the rapidly expanding presence of Old Colony Mennonites, who are transforming large swathes of land into agricultural fields, could change that. Beekeepers say that the large-scale agriculture and the genetically modified soy planted by the Mennonites is killing their hives and contaminating the supply of honey with pesticides. In 2012, the beekeepers sued the government and won—resulting in a supreme court ban on transgenic soybeans four years ago. But on the ground, little has changed.

Bees that drink human tears

Image of bees in eye.

TBR Editor: That story this morning about the Taiwanese woman with sweat bees in her eye seemed strange indeed. But the smart folks at The Bees in Your Backyard and Ethnobeeology have shed some light on the matter: “These were not Halictidae sweat bees as people are assuming but tiny tropical Meliponine stingless bees.” Check out this 2009 paper from JSTOR or page 132 of The Bees in Your Backyard book for more info.