Bees have just been officially called the most important creature on the planet. I mean, 70% of all the food you [we] eat had flowers that were pollinated by bees. So it makes sense. If they go extinct (which they are now on the endangered list as a whole), then we’ll all be eating different types of potatoes until the cows come home. And then forever after that.
And I mean, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If we lose bees, it will be utterly devastating (to us, as well as every other animal in chain).
So we must save them. (Well, really, we must stop killing them, and protect them so that they can do their thing).
At the moment, it is believed that about 90% of all bees have been killed in recent years largely due to uncontrolled pesticide use, deforestation and lack of flowers.
And even though there’s been a lot of talk about bees in the last handful of years, there’s still a lot that most of us don’t know about bees! Like, for example: stingless bees!
First, I should start by saying that the bees that most of us know about (the ones that DO sting), make up a tiny portion of the species of bees on the planet. We commonly call them the honey-bees, and there are at least 7 species and 44 known sub-species on the planet.
They make the vast majority of honey, but not all of it.
44 might seem like a lot of different types, but when you learn that there are over 20,000 different subspecies of all bees, it’s really actually quite a small amount.
Side-note, roughly 80% of all those bees are solitary bees! As in, they don’t even have a hive/colony!
Stingless bees comprise about 500-600 species of bees on the planet. And they are much, much older from an evolutionary perspective. We’re talking an estimated 70-90 million years on this planet. That’s a looooong time before Apis (stinging) bees came about. They are estimated to have evolved somewhere around 1 million years ago. Still a long time, but nowhere near as ancient as the stingless bees.
And after all this time, after all the things this earth has seen, they’re getting close to being extinct because of us.
Costa Rican Stingless Bees
In Costa Rica alone, there are 59 known stingless bee species. And I know of at least one that is on the critically endangered list.
Since stingless bees don’t produce anywhere near the volume of honey that the stinging bees do, they have lost the popular vote for the cultures who used to take care of them and use them as a means to make some money. This means that over time, the number of people who know how to properly care for them, AND who teach this to the next generation are dropping.
Lack of education in care and lower honey production are two more factors in the list of elements leading to their endangerment. Other elements include: loss of habitat (logging and fires), competition from Apis bee varieties (compete for food resources and they also attack the stingless colonies), pesticide use, increased frequency of natural disasters and so on.
It’s with these things in mind that we are determined to do our part (and actually more than our part) in order to prevent these incredible creatures from going extinct.
Things we are doing at the centre include:
- • Education – currently of local folks who often take more honey from colonies than they should, which ends up killing them. In the future we will have educational programs that will specifically aid in the proliferation of stingless bee colonies.
- • Bringing colonies to the centre to care for them – mostly from trees that have fallen or are in danger of being burned or cut down.
- • Eliminating pesticide use and employing bee-conscious permaculture practices.
- • Planting many, many flowering trees and plants to provide an abundance of food sources for them.
- • Splitting colonies – the careful division of a colony to create a new one, somewhat sooner than they would have done themselves, yet with the care needed to ensure survival of both colonies.
How can you get involved in all this?
It can be as simple as limiting your bug spray, whilst here (and in general), or as involved as engaging in learning about our colonies and helping out with them. At home, you can ensure that you don’t use pesticides, you’re planting many of your own flowering plants and trees and reporting any colonies you find to people who can take the best care of them.
There are many more blogs coming about our bees and bees in general – in the hopes to share our love for them, and to educate about them – because education is how we keep them alive.
For more bee posts, check out our bee archives here.