I promised I would write more about the bees of Lake Atitlan 🐝
I have enjoyed the local honey from around Lake Atitlan which is sold by my neighbors. I had seen the European honeybee climbing into my sunflowers. But I had never heard of a stingless bee before I visited El Mundo de Abejas Maya, (The World of Maya Bees) in San Juan La Laguna, where I learned about and actually saw the three kinds of tiny bees native to the Lake. Perhaps you can see how tiny there are in comparison to my finger. They are so small that it is easy to think they are not bees at all when they zip past. .
These tiny and ancient bees pollinate native plants and have been endangered due to pesticides, though there are now several groups dedicated to their conservation.
Normally they live in trees or underground. Their hives look a lot different than the ordered hexagons of the European bee, more like a hobbit house with crazy angles.
Stingless bees are found only in Central and South America where their hives were often destroyed in search of the honey of these bees, prized for its medicinal properties. But it was the Maya of the Yucatan who developed a way to protect the hive while extracting the honey.
My guide at Mundo de Abejas Mayas said that at El Mundo, they extract the honey from the hives with a syringe. It is a delicate process. Where a European bee hive can produces 30 to 60 pounds of honey a year, the stingless bees produce only 1/2 - 1 liter of honey. This special honey is known for its medicinal properties, especially for digestive disorders and is for sale onsite. For more on the medicinal properties of this honey, check out the recent National Geographic article on Stingless bees and their miracle honey.
"So they don't sting," I asked again for confirmation as the tiny bees entered and left the hive in front of me.
"No," my guide said, "but they bite."
"Have you been bitten?" I asked.
"Oh yes," she said. "It feels like this," she pinched her arm.
I was a little relieved that these tiny important creatures had some defense even without stingers and venom.
And at the end of the tour, I sat on the bee chair and pondered the busy life of bees and how dependent we are on their tire-less labor. Bees pollinate over 80% of all plants. Even the carnivorus wasp has an important function in maintaining the balance of life.
I so grateful that Mundo de Abejas Maya, among others, are working to save these special creatures.
If you want to contemplate further our relationship with bees and each other, please check out my new lyric video with a lovely dancing bee 🐝 providing the visuals.
Liking and sharing it helps spread the word.