Stingless bees have been in existence for over 80 million years.
In Brazil, there are 240 species of stingless bees, with an estimated 100 more to be discovered.
Stingless bees have been studied for both honey production and as alternative pollinators of several crops in tropical and subtropical areas, such as tomato, strawberry, macadamia, coffee and assai berry, the most important crop in the Amazon currently.
Out of 140 crops in Brazil, 80 can be pollinated by stingless bees.
At the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), bee biology and bee management researcher Dr Cristiano Menezes has developed a technique to produce large numbers of stingless bee queens in the lab and improved colony multiplication technologies.
“In the last decade, we have studied the management of different species of stingless bees, which allowed us to start a colony production system in Brazil,” he said, adding that in his country, colony reproduction enjoys a 90% success rate.
“It is estimated that five million colonies are produced every year for pollination worldwide,” said Menezes, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently to speak at the 25th IdeaXchange Session organised by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia.
Embrapa has also successfully managed queen mating and improved incubation techniques to produce colonies under lab conditions.
“We have studied the management of this species with several crops such as strawberry, coffee, macadamia, açaí and lychee. We have also developed techniques to transport and protect colonies from environment stress,” he said.
Stingless bees introduced to pollinate strawberries increased the size of the fruits by 43%, and increased their shelf life.
“The advances achieved so far allowed us to establish a production system of stingless bee colonies,” added Menezes.
“We can offer colonies for pollination services to growers and for honey production.”