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A land coral?

July 14, 2012

Sometimes you see flattened funnels at the base of tree trunks or on bare sand. They look like some kind of a coral, but if you wait a bit you will soon see black stingless bees (Apidae family, tribe Meliponini) fly in and out. These are absolutely quiet, and you may soon realize they help to pollinate your garden plants. Here at Dokmai Garden in northern Thailand they seem very fond of banana flowers. Being locals, they find enough food to survive on their own, while introduced European honeybees need donations of sugary water to survive. The funnel is the opening to their nest, here made from sand and plant resin.

Stingless bees are easy to identify in the air; black, small, silent and with their legs hanging down. Even if they can not sting, they are theoretically able to bite, although I have never had any problems with that. In some parts of the world the honey can be extracted and consumed, sometimes attributed powerful medicinal properties. This colony takes advantage of our sand bags which we stock nearby the Dokmai Garden compost. Although I am curious to taste the honey of a true wild bee, I do not want to crush this little peaceful society with its two-coloured inhabitants (likely to be Trigona (Tetragona) apicalis var. binghami). Harvesting of forest honey usually means plundering, death and destruction, while modern beekeeping allows the survival of the bee society.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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