When you think of bees, the first things that comes to mind are yellow and black stripes, a buzzing sound, and the possibility of getting a painful sting. Can you imagine bees without a sting?
Actually, those do exist! Such bees are called meliponines or simply stingless bees. Worldwide, more than 600 species of stingless bees exist. However, only a fraction of them has been studied to date.
Stingless bees are distinguished from ordinary honey bees by their size, with meliponines being smaller, having reduced wing venation, and characteristically lacking a sting. This does not mean they are defenceless, as they are known to bite possible intruders.
Like honey bees, stingless bees are eusocial insects, forming perennial colonies that consist of a single queen, workers, and temporary males. In the wild, they build their nests in a variety of habitats such as tree cavities, holes in the ground, dead wood, cracks in stone or mud walls and abandoned termite nests.
Stingless bees play an important role in the environment as pollinators of various flowering plants, since they feed on pollen and nectar. Stingless bees have also shown potential as pollinators for agricultural systems. Some species have shown promising results in the pollination of vegetable crops such as capsicum, leading to an increase in their yields.
Besides pollinating plants, meliponines also produce honey. Their honey has a high medicinal value due to its antibiotic properties. Stingless bee honey is one of the most sought-after and highly-priced therapeutic natural products. Their propolis and wax also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.