A goodly gang of stingless bees has taken up residence in a potted Bauhinia Blakeana tree in my terrace garden. Trying to figure out what kind of bee they are turned out to be a monumental task. After much searching among scholarly articles on bees found in the Western Ghats in western India (here’s one, in case anyone’s interested: anti-microbial activity of stingless bee propolis used in folk medicine of western Maharashtra), I think I can narrow them down to the Trigona species of stingless bees as they seem to be fairly common in this part of India.
Still, I can’t be sure about their identity. The village mentioned in the research article above is close to the city of Pune where I live, here in the western state of Maharashtra in India. The city is perched along a confluence of small rivers on a dipping spur in the Western Ghats. These hills were formed over several million years. India was once attached to super continent Gondwana, but there was a split and India began drifting northward. Along its northward path to Asia it wandered over a volcanic hotspot, which laid down layer upon layer of basaltic lava terraces or traps. After much erosion and more tectonic activity this is what you get:
But I digress. My terrace garden is several stories up, and the bees have chosen this tree in a residential area far from bio diversity. I am incredibly grateful for their presence. Trigona bees seem to be attracted to leguminous species from the little research I am able to find. And my Bauhinia would fall into that category. Although, this one, the Blakeana, being a hybrid does not produce the long beans characteristic of the legume family found on other Bauhinia species after they finish flowering. The bees only moved into the tree after a section of its main trunk was hollowed out by tiny termites. The bees seem to access their nest through a hollow dry stem above the trunk, which acts as an entrance tunnel.
We are extremely lucky here in this city to have the Central Bee Research Institute, where there are courses in bee-keeping on offer. A lot of farmers find honey-making a secondary source of income in hard times with increased pollination as an added boon. The institute building in the heart of the city of Pune with its small landscaped garden is now besieged by flyovers, arterial roads and a petrol station, so kudos to the bees who continue to do their work in the middle of this cacophony, smoke and chaos. The librarian at the institute was helpful when I went in inquiring after stingless bees. Another official told me research was still going on the stingless bees of this region.
From what I have learned, stingless bee honey is valued as medicine in all the states that lie along the hills of the Western Ghats.
I have had so many bee visitors over the years it has been an adventure chasing after their IDs. There have been giant bees (apis dorsata) and even the average honeybee (apis cerana indica) thoroughfarer from time to time. Blue-banded bees are dazzling creatures with their corpulent bellies banded with glittering turquoise and teddy-bear fur on heads which frame big light green anime eyes.