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Primates harvest bee nests in Ugandan reserve

In the first study of native African honeybees and honey-making stingless bees in the same habitat, humans and chimpanzees are the primary bee nest predators. Robert Kajobe of the Dutch Tropical Bee Research Unit and David Roubik from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute report this finding in the March, 2006 issue of Biotropica.

Batwa Pygmies, who have traditionally harvested honey for food, located 228 bee nests (both honeybees and stingless bees) for the study. Roubik identified the bees and found that Pygmy names for the bees corresponded to scientific names, except for a black and a brown form of Meliponula ferruginea.Honeybee (Apis) nests were numerous compared to other sites in the tropics, whereas honey-making stingless bee nests were relatively scarce. Nest abundance did not vary with altitude, nor did pollen collection or the seasonality of flowering.

Both honey bees and stingless bees make honey. Apis mellifera, the most commonly cultivated honeybee, is native to Europe and Africa. Apis mellifera subspecies scutellata, the very defensive tropical African honeybee, was transplanted from Africa to Brazil as part of a scientific experiment to boost honey production in 1956. From Brazil, it invaded the Americas, working its way northward and is now found in southern U.S. states.

Dave Roubik has followed the progress of Africanized honeybees in the New World, documenting effects of pollen and nectar collecting and nesting ecology on native-American stingless bees. Kajobe invited Roubik to visit the Bwindi-Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda, where African honeybees coexist with five or more species of honey-making stingless bees in their native habitat.

Chimps in the Park peel and chew the tips of vines and twigs to make honey dipsticks. Roubik notes that indigenous groups in the Americas use similar honey brushes to harvest honey in areas where Africanized bees are relative newcomers [see photo].'"/>

Source:Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute


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