Buzzing about Stingless Bees

Blogpost by Sydney Denham, general volunteer.

Sydney's favorite stingless bee nest

Sydney’s favorite stingless bee nest.

Studying bees can be tedious work, but not because of needing to carefully avoid the stingers. The bees I’ve been observing (thankfully) lack them, making it easy to get up close and personal with my little buzzing friends. Rather than getting stung, this work is difficult because the nests are very challenging to find.

I’ve learned that field biology is not just recording data vast quantities of data all day. First, the subject must be found to be analyzed, which is easier said than done. In the case of the stingless bees, romping through the thick jungle searching every nook and cranny for the small tube-like hives is the real challenge. The study is an exploration of the relationship between stingless bees and their local ecosystems and their role in pollinating native plant species, particularly vanilla. More knowledge about these bees could potentially lead to the harvesting of their medicinal honey by local farmers and conservationists.

Johan and Luis point out a bees nest.

Johan and Luis point out a bees nest.

It is as exciting as finding buried treasure when we spot one of the hives. My pencil glides across my field notebook to record the finding, and I get to work observing any behavioral patterns that could be significant to the study. I craftily set up a log bench at the base of a tree and observe a hive to really get to know the bees. Not knowing what might turn out to be important, I jot down any activity that could come across as useful information.

I really feel like a scientist, designing timed experiments and collecting a few small samples to take back to the lab for identification and further investigation. The study is in its early stages, making it very open-ended. Hilary Brumberg (Rios Saludables program coordinator and the leader of our bee expeditions), a few other Costa Rican and international volunteers, and I brainstorm methods to make the study as logical and effective as possible. Having a say in the study design makes me feel involved on a whole new level with the team here at Osa Conservation.

Equipped with my waterproof notebook, sample collection supplies, and hiking gear, the budding biologist in me is ready to take on the jungle and all its buzzing little critters.

Bee team volunteers Sydney, Rachel, Luis, and Johan during an expedition.

Bee team volunteers Sydney, Rachel, Luis, and Johan during an expedition.