When one thinks of a bee, the thought of a flower is almost never far behind. The mutualistic relationship between a bee and flower is one of the most well known in biology. Bees obtain two necessary food components from flowers. One being nectar to provide carbohydrates for energy and the second is pollen, providing protein to feed the larvae. Because of this, they are completely dependent on plants for food (Schaafsma 2006). However, in return for nectar and pollen the bee is a very important contributor to the plants self-pollination and cross-pollination. Consequently, stingless bees are more successful at self-pollination than cross-pollination due to the strictness and consistency of the paths they travel when collecting pollen (Ramalho 2004).A Coco-de-mer tree provided with permission by

            Stingless bees focus on collecting pollen from flowers with mass-flowering, meaning that one plant produces many flowers for a short time, about one week (Schaffsma 2006). Ramalho observed in the Brazilian Tropical Atlantic Rainforest that the trees most visited were melittophilous trees, small, inconspicious, generalized mass-flowering plants found at the highest level of the forest, in the canopy and lianas such as the Coco-de-mer tree. Most of the plants they pollinate from were hermaphroditic or monoecious (Ramalho 2004). Hermaphroditic and monoecious meaning that both the female and male reproductive organs reside on the same plant. The advantage of getting pollen from mass-flowering plants is that it allows bees to store great amounts of pollen and nectar at one time during good foraging conditions, however, this is inevitably followed by a period of bad foraging conditions. Melipona beecheii do have the ability to adjust their foraging behavior depending on the conditions of the mass-flowering plants (Schaffsma 2006).

            When pollen reserves get low, the number of larvae produced decreases as well as a decreased chance of phorid fly attack on the hive (Schaffsma 2006). The phorid fly is the biggest parasite of stingless bees in Central and South America due to the great mortality it causes a hive. The fly is attracted to the stored food and larvae. The invasion begins with the females, not any males, who enter the nest and feed on pollen and lay eggs on the A phorid fly provided with permission by insectimages.orgpollen stores and the waste. When the pollen stores run low they begin laying eggs on the bee larvae. The fly larvae feed on the bees' food and become facultative predators (Robroek 2003). A facultative predator is an insect predator feeds on plants or prey that is at the same developmental stage as them (Albajes 2013). After the fly larvae pupate they travel to a dry portion of the nest and shortly after exit the hive without ovipositing. The only damage done to the hive was by the initial female ovipositing. Their offspring do not have enough food to successfully grow offspring in the same hive after the females invaded (Robroek 2003).

            In addition to dealing with the phorid flies, the M. beecheii must compete with European and Africanized honeybees to survive. Because they produce more honey, beekeepers prefer to rear them instead. This is part of the problem causing them to endangerment, with no help from deforestation and hurricanes. Part of the transition to European and Africanized bees is due mostly to behavioral differences. European bees wake at five o' clock in the morning to begin working and Africanized bees may work through the night during a full moon. In contrast, M. beecheii begin working at noon, inevitably contributing to less production of honey (Bellows 2012). M. beecheii is also in competition with the African and European bees for floral resources and nesting sites.  InAfrican bee on flower  provided with permission by addition, the great amounts of deforestation of the Yucatan peninsula turning the forest into agave, sisal, and cattling ranching land instead causes the bee to forage on secondary growth plants instead (Villanueva-G 2005).

           With all of the organisms M. beecheii has to deal with, it has had to work with one more for centuries and that organism is humans (EOL 2012).The Mayans have had a beekeeping tradition dating back centuries for spiritual reason. M. beecheii was said to have mystical power and were messengers between the living and dead worlds. Mayans worshipped the bee god, Ah Muzen Cab (the Descending God and Divine God) for survival (Bellows 2012). M. beecheii is also named “xunan-kab” bee, meaning the royal lady bee, or “cole-kab” by their keepers. Maya used this bee to “find their place in the universe and relationship to the earth, dieties, and Spanish invaders” (cite quote from Villanueva-G) This bee was a gift from the gods and handled with reverence and care. They even have a ritual called the U-Hanli-Cab ritual where the Mayan priests ask the gods for permission to harvest the honey (Villanueva-G 2005). M. beecheii was not only valued for its religious and spiritual uses but also for its use as medicine to treat infections, asthma, dryness and cataracts. The economy benefited from it as well through trade between other towns as well as being used to make balche. Balche is a sacred wine made from fermented tree bark and the first extraction of honey. Permission from the Melipona gods is needed in order to share it (Bellows 2012). To discover more about the Melipona beecheii and their relationship with the Mayans please watch the short film below by Stephen Buchmann.


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