Smithsonian scientists have discovered two new, closely related bee species: one from Coiba Island in Panama and another from northern Colombia. Both descended from of a group of stingless bees that originated in the Amazon and moved into Central America, the ancestors of Mayan honeybees. The presence of one of these new species on Coiba and Rancheria Islands, and its absence from the nearby mainland, is a mystery that will ultimately shed light on Panama's history and abundant biodiversity.
At almost 200 square miles, Coiba Island is the largest offshore island along the Pacific coast of Latin America. Rancheria Island is a much smaller neighbor. The species name, insularis, of the new bee from Coiba, Melipona insularis, means "island." This is the first species in its group to be found on islands near the mainland.
"These forest bees have a small range over which they can establish new nests and colonies," says David Roubik, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "They can't establish a new nest across more than a short stretch of open water because workers from the original nest have to build and supply the new nest before the new queen moves in."
Either several entire tree-cavity nests arrived on Coiba and Rancheria in floating mats of vegetation or a land connection existed between the island and the mainland before the bees disappeared from the mainland.
Sea level has risen and fallen dramatically in the past. During ice ages, when much of the Earth's water is locked up in polar caps and glaciers, sea level drops in Panama. The sea floor between Coiba and the mainland, and between Coiba and neighboring Rancheria Island where the bee was also found, is never more than about 300 feet below the surface. Five other stingless bee species on Coiba are widespread on the mainland and on many little islands that were connected to the mainland during glaciations. Those bees are relative newcomers that may have arr
|Contact: Beth King|
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute