Colony Behaviour

Colony Behaviour

Foraging

During foraging, stingless bees collect pollen, nectar, oils, water, resins, mud and sand particles.

Most stingless bee species communicate locations of forage sources by secreting chemical scents (pheromones) and through the use of the sun’s direction. When the foraging workers encounter any forage, they will collect and return to their nest to recruit other workers to the forage source.

During the trip, workers stop and mark specific spots with pheromones in order to direct the other workers to the forage source.

Workers begin foraging activities as early as dawn and end by dusk depending upon weather conditions and availability of forage. Peak foraging times coincide with the dry season when forage is in abundance.

Depending on the species, stingless bees will forage within 2 kilometers from their nests. Foragers may be found on flowers of various plants, on grasses and also near water bodies.

Some bees collect resins from tree trunks and branches as well as on buds of flowers and leaves.

Nest activities and organisation

Nest Structure

The internal arrangement of a stingless bee nest will show the following structures:

  1. The passage way – This is an extension of the nest entrance, linking the outside world to the nest. Next to the entrance and in many other locations inside the nest there are deposits of resin, used frequently by the bees.
  2. The brood section –  Most species of stingless bees use cerumen (a mixture of wax and plant resin) in the construction of the brood cells and storage pots; others use pure wax. The brood section is enveloped by multiple layers of membranes of cerumen which is called the involucrum and is important for temperature control in the nest. Brood cells are arranged horizontally in most species or in a cluster, however in others such as Dactylurina, cells are vertically arranged. Layers of brood cells are suspended and separated by connectives and pillars.
  1. Storage Section – The oval shaped storage pots for honey and Beebread (pollen) are built with cerumen.
  2. Open spaces – These are spaces left out in the nest for the deposit of resins, propolis and other materials used by the colony for nest building and security.
  3. Nest volume – Stingless bees build nest according to colony size. Where a cavity is too large for a colony the nest is temporary closed up at both ends using layers of membranes of batumen (composition of resin, mud and wax).

Activities in the nest

Egg-laying – The queen is responsible in the laying of eggs that hatch to maintain nest populations. However all the other activities in the nest are carried out by the workers which include the following:

  1. Storage pot construction.
  2. Honey and pollen processing and packing.
  3. House cleaning and maintenance.
  4. Larval feeding and provisioning.
  5. Queen grooming and feeding.
  6. Colony security.
  7. Mating is the role of the drones and the queen.

 

Colony Defence

Even though stingless bees do not have the ability to employ stinging as a means of defence, they are equipped with various means of defending their colonies from intruders.

Stingless bees need to defend their colonies against threats. Threats to stingless bee colonies may include the following:

’ Predators: lizards, birds, toads, spiders, and ants.
’ Intruders: robber bees, hive beetles, wax moths, flies, other animals and man.

In order to prevent predators and intruders from interfering with colonies, all stingless bee species will guard nest entrances with a few to many workers.

In the night, workers on guard retreat into the nest and use propolis to close their nest entrances. This behaviour prevents ants, beetles and other animals from entering the nest.

The propolis seal at the entrance is removed in the morning and new ones replaced every evening. Some species of stingless bees use sticky plant materials such as resins to prevent intruders from entering their nests. Where intruders or predators manage to enter nests, large volumes of resins and propolis are used to entomb them alive till they die.

Some stingless bee species construct a long and winding tunnel to the outside of the nest to aid colony defence.

Any disturbance of the nests of some species of stingless bee such as Dactylurina and Hypotrigona will signal several workers of their colony to attack the perceived intruder. In their attack, workers try to enter vital areas such as the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth causing discomfort to the intruder. Biting is another means some stingless bees employ to wade off intruders when their nest is disturbed. The bees bite may cause painful and long-lasting skin lesions serving as a deterrent to a potential enemy.

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