Stingless honey bees are found in most parts of the world. It some what varies in color and appearance. One thing common among them is they are all small not bigger than 5mm and they have no stinger. In Kerala we call it cheruthen eecha, it is 3mm in size. This species is know as trigona iridipennis.
Did the bigger bees develop stinger or stingless bees lose their stinger??? How does it matter; stingless bees effectively defend their colony by trapping ants and other pest with propolis or plant resin, biting, even with humans they use propolis along with biting on eyelids and crawling inside the nose and ears.
Many people consume honey from normal bees regularly however they are not willing to keep them in their farm or garden because of the aggressive nature. For such people and farmers stingless honey bee is the best option. Stingless Beekeeping is know as "meliponiculture". Only drawback is they produce less honey. On a average a bee colony can provide some where around 300 grams to 1 kg of honey in a year. This also depends on how big the colony is and nectar available locally. However some farmers have been able to get 2 to 3 kg from healthy colony.
Cheruthen(Stingless bees honey) is considered superior honey in Ayurvedic texts and other medical journals. It is mostly administered to kids for mild fever. This honey helps to reduce fever and treat many kind of infections. Hence it has the ability to reduce fever(Stingless bees feed on thumba-poo which is antipyretic, anti fungal anti-microbial etc. for more details on thumba read this). There are many more medicinal plants that this bees feed. Not just in India. Africans, Australians, most part of tropical area and South Americans consider this honey as medicine.
Unique Manuka factor(UMF) is a term used for honey produced from manuka tree flowers which has high antimicrobial properties. Somehow the honey collect from here in Kerala is superior to honey with the maximum UMF. Because there are a lot of medicinal herbs here in Kerala that this bees feed on.
Honey is not just used internally, it can be successfully used to heal a water oozing wound. It is largely because of the hydrogen peroxide, antifungal activity, rich in antioxidant, antimicrobial that helps heal a wound. If a wound is left untreated it oozes liquid, this happen sometime even after applying antibiotic ointments, when natural raw honey is applied there will be no sign of fluid and healing is much faster, I have tried it. It does a excellent work.
Cheruthen is considered medicinal because it collects nectar and pollen from small wild growing plants and trees, it is difficult for bigger bees to get inside smaller flowers. Bigger bees are mostly circulated in fruit orchards, where all sorts of chemicals and hormones are used for production. How can that honey be medicine or consumed???
Have been noticing these small bees like coco palm tree(theng) flowers. It has very less nectar but lots and lots of pollen. It reminds me in olden days people used scraping of tender coconut leaf which has a ashy coating for wound dressing. It has anti-microbial quality. Even virgin coconut oil has the same qualities. So pollen and nectar should definitely have the same qualities.
Stingless bees largely feed on coco palm, banana, guava, papaya, mango, tamarind, thumbapoo, Communist pacha, touch-me-not plant(thottavadi), jackfruit tree, Tulsi (Holy Basil), kulir mavu, teak for honey, pollen and resin. Note in the forest it will have much more variety.
Benefit of keeping at-least one colony of stingless bees in your farm is you can extract honey anytime of the year, there will be always little honey.Stingless bees store honey in small pots made of wax and propolis.It looks like bunch of grapes.
They consume and also feed very little honey for their young ones as compared to larger bees. They seal and preserve excess honey and start building new honey chamber if there is space. Even during non flowering season they are active and raising new ones.Unlike larger bees stingless bees lay eggs and store pollen and honey just once till they emerge as bees. In most cases more than 70 percent of bees with queen leave the colony for a new location if space is a constraint.
Major Difference between Stingless Bee Honey and Larger Bee Honey
1.Stingless bee honey is not overly sweet and has a pleasant taste and aroma. Larger bee honey is overly sweet.
2.Stingless bee honey is medicinal because of the flowers and trees it visits.
3.Stingless bees don't mix pollen with honey. Most people who have seen the nest misunderstand that pollen is the hardened form of old honey. It will have a little honey pot here and there in the pollen storage bunch. Pollen will always be close to the entry of the bees colony. Larger bees mix honey and pollen together know as bee bread.
4.Stingless bees wax is not white or off white in color. It has a golden texture when melted and filtered. Raw form of wax may be dark brown, green, black in color depending on the local available tree resin.
5.Stingless bee honey has more water content as compared to larger bees. If not take care it will spoil in room temperature. Traditionally people added two or three white pepper seeds to preserve it.
6.Stingless bee's honey is mostly in shades of amber color. Larger bees honey comes in many variety of colors.
How to Extract or Transfer Stingless Bee Colony
1.Before proceeding ahead word of caution. Never expose a colony during night. Everthing has to happen preferably during morning hours.
2.If you are transferring a bee colony from one place to another. This should happen during night after sunset by then all the bee would have settled in the hive.
3.If you are extracting honey or transferring the colony to a new hive. It is always good to used a clean plastic bottle with small ventilation to trap the bees from the entry by hitting at the back of the hive with your hands and placing the bottle mouth at the bee entry spot. Most of the attackers will come out immediately. Now just close the bottle lid and let them rest while you do your work.
4.Bamboo Beehive - This bees like hollow tree trunks and sealed cavities. So bamboo is the best substitute while transferring them to new location. Split open a Bamboo in two halves as shown in the below image.
5.Don't have patience then go a head and break open the colony and transfer the bees, honey, pollen, eggs and propolis. Make sure you keep the new colony near by the old one till sunset because many bees would be out for gathering honey and pollen. When it is dark you can transfer them to a new location.
6.New place has to be elevated from the ground. Keep away and watch out for ants. Hanging the hive on trees or other place using ropes also don't work. Bigger and small ants are a big problem. Best option is keep the colony on a table and immerse the leg of the table in water(best way to keep ants away). Ideally colony should be kept on this table for coming 2 to 3 months. By this time the colony would have established itself and the entry would be sealed which should keep ants and other pest away in future.
New Improved dammer bee boxes
Usually dammer bees are grown in earthen pots, tube like cage made out of two halves of a bamboo pole, two wooden electric switch boxes fixed on one another etc.in the form of a box.In all these types of cages, the openings are fixed by the bees with a strong and stiff material called propolis. Hence dammer bees need to be reared in light, heat and air current proof ideal cage. Many a times earthen pots are damaged while being opened for honey collection or colonization and also complete extraction is not possible. The remains of residual oozing of honey attracts ant like insects into the pot or cage and result in forced expel of bees from the pot/cage.InterventionsImproved dammer bee box is an innovation , where in regular monitoring of the colony is possible.The improved dammer bee box is made up of wood of 1.5 cm thickness,23.5 cm length, 16.5 cm breadth and 11.5 cm height. Thick paper rims placed 1.5 cm below from the top and 1.5 cm above from the bottom portion of the box has made the box light, heat and air current proof. The paper rim is used for camouflaging the bees. Paper rim on the top portion has two halves, which can be opened like a window without any gap. On this paper rim, a rectangle piece of thick paper sheet is placed,on which the upper lid is placed.All these make the upper part of the box light,heat and air current proof. In the bottom portion, beneath the paper rim, a rectangular sheet of thick paper of the size suitable to the inside of the box is placed. Below the paper sheet, a wooden door of 1.5 cm thickness is placed, which slides on a groove to one side of the box. Through this portion the extraction of honey and bee colony from the box can be undertaken.This box is placed on a wooden frame and the wooden frame is attached to GI pipe stand fitted with plastic kernel, which act as antwell and prevent entering of ant likeinsects inside the box. The box and stand are detachable, rotatable so that the box can be placed in a desired direction. The top lid of the box is provided with detachable roofing to overcome seasonal changes.By this improved dammer bee box the two major problem namely incomplete honey extraction and improper colonization could be minimized up to a great extent.
Advantage of Dammer bee cultivation
Stingless Honey Bees or Dwarf Bees are one of the native breeds of Honey Bees found in India and many other countries.The main speciality of these bees are they are small and stingless which makes it very easy to handle.Lots of people fear the aggressive nature of Honey bees so they don't want to keep Bees even if they are interested in applications of Honey.For such farmers,Dwarf honey bee farming is a suitable option.The main drawback of these bees are low Honey production rate.From one colony,we can get only 1Kg of honey per year.By increasing number of colonies and reducing operating costs we can overcome this issue.
Stingless bee keeping enables great opportunities to ladies who can utilize their free time at home.As Dwarf honey bee don't have stings,this farming is fearless and easy job,ladies can replace the requirement of skilled labour which may be required with other type of Bees.Thus we can reduce the running cost considerably.This type of Honey has great medicinal properties and is used in various Ayurveda medicines.As the availability is less,we can get high price for our Honey.These factors also promote Stingless honey Bee farming and help the success of the farmer.
Stingless Honey bees are found in nature.For utilizing them in our farm,we need to keep them in specialized boxes.This is a big task as they won't come so easily.This require special techniques and patience.One common technique is to provide a box at the entrance of the bee nest and allow them to pass through the box.Over time,they will start to build combs inside the Box.After 6 months,you can separate the box and keep it as a separate honey bee nest.
Molecular Systematics and Ecology of Stingless bees (Trigona iridipennis ) of Southern Western Ghats, Kerala
Stingless bees are eusocial insects, living in permanent colonies on holes in tree trunks, crevices of rocks and other such concealed places. The honey produced by them is being used in traditional medicines in Kerala and other parts of India.
They belong to order Hymenoptera in the tribe Meliponini under family Apidae. Stingless bees in India have been described as Trigona iridipennis Smith 1854. In Kerala too, the stingless bee are described as T. iridipennis. But it was noticed that populations in different parts of Kerala exhibited morphological and behavioural variations, which resulted in framing the project to explore the systematics of the bees using morphometry and molecular biology. The bio-ecology of the stingless bees is not known inspite of the great ecosystem services they provide, not only as pollinators but also as honey producers. One of the objectives of the project was to explore this aspect. Traditionally people rear stingless bees but it is yet to be standardized and popularized. This project also tried to document the practices and arrived at some recommendations. Specimens were collected from 22 locations spread across nine districts in the Southern Western Ghats of the State of kerala. Twenty two characters were selected, measured and compared morphometrically to find any variations in the different populations. The samples from three locations, which showed significant morphometric variations, were subjected to molecular analysis by sequencing and comparing 16S rRNA and CO1genes. The results of the analysis showed that samples from two locations have sequence similarity among themselves and with Trigona (Tetragonula), whereas the sample from the third location showed relatedness to Lisotrigona. Detailed sampling and data generation, both morphological and molecular fronts have to be taken up, to validate the presence of different species of stingless bees present in this part of the world. The bio-ecology of the bees explored were the nest structure, colony composition, activity pattern, foraging, resource utilization etc., which resulted in some interesting findings. The bees respond to changes in environment and make use of all available resources for their survival.
The traditional practice of stingless bee keeping is documented using a structured questionnaire. It was found that, the bee keepers use multiple approaches for keeping colonies. But, a scientific approach is needed for rearing of bees, extraction of honey and colony management. Based on the study a few recommendations have been made for Meliponiculture. It should be popularized as an income generating activity and also as a natural resource conservation programme.