The Stingless bees have scientific names of Tetragonula species (Trigona species). They are natively called the Kiwot, Lukot, Kiyot, Lukutan or Libog. Either the name Kiwot or Stingless bee will be used in this website.
The Stingless bees are about the size of an ant, yet have all the features of the honeybees except that they do not have a sting. The Philippines is blessed with having many species of this bee and they are (in some regions) often now the key remaining pollinator for agriculture. They typically make their colonies in old bamboo, and are frequently found around bamboo or wooden structures.
The top picture shows the relative size of a Kiwot and a Ligwan (Apis mellifera). The bottom picture is a close up of a Kiwot showing that it has a small ‘furry body’ which catches the pollen particles, and also has a pollen basket on its hind legs. The stingless bees collect pollen for food, and in doing so also pollinate the flowers they visit. This bee is drinking tiny drops of nectar, and some of this it makes into honey.
Studies of the foraging ranges of stingless bees have found that they can possibly fly over a kilometer from the colony, but also that they will visit much more frequently good pollen sources which are closest to the colony. Stingless bees are common visitors to flowering plants in the tropics, and they are known to visit the flowers of approximately 90 crop species. (1) They were confirmed to be effective and important pollinators of 9 species. They may make a contribution to the pollination of approximately 60 other species, but there is insufficient information to determine their overall effectiveness or importance. It is often inferred that their small size may mean that they are good pollinators for some particular flowers. (1) (3) (5)
In the Philippines it appears that because of their small size, and also because their colonies are usually quite small (fitting between the nodes of old bamboo for example) they are usually over-looked by most people. There are also small wasps (often with red or yellow markings) and other insects which Stingless bees are easily confused with and so colonies of bees might be destroyed. Removal of vegetation and replacement of older wooden buildings with concrete buildings gradually contributes to habitat loss and the use of pesticides and herbicides will influence populations. There are so many small insects in a tropical environment that only specialist entomologists might appreciate their relative population sizes.
Cultivation of Stingless bees & their use in agriculture
Stingless bees can be generally appreciated as valuable pollinators for a range of crops; an interesting example is an 80% increase in crop yield for Pili Nuts (7). The many species of Stingless bees contribute to the mix of insects that make up the pollination environment. Therefore it is logical for farmers to encourage more stingless bees by just ensuring that there are lengths of suitable bamboo around the land.
There is an increasing interest in hived colonies of Trigona biroi in particular which show good potential, although this is currently limited to the southern areas of Luzon. An informative guide is given in the UPLB book (2) and also in other publications (6) and in the following videos.
Trigona biroi form large colonies which can be hived and transported to aid pollination of mangos and other crops. The following video shows the splitting of a hived colony.
Gradually hived Trigona biroi colonies are being used in various agricultural regions of the Philippines, as interest grows in their value as pollinators and also as producers of pollen and propolis. It appears that Trigona biroi colonies will only multiple in numbers if they are provided with particularly suitable ‘hive dimensions’ and encouraged to do so. This means that colonies are unlikely to spread uncontrolled into the environment without management by ‘beekeepers’.
For the immediate future the native endemic bees are of pre-eminant importance for the national pollination requirements. This means that whatever Stingless bees are already present need to be appreciated and encouraged, in addition to the native honeybees.
1) The role of stingless bees in crop pollination
by Heard T.A., Annual Review of Entomology 1999: 183-206
2) Management of Native Bees – Trigona spp, Apis cerana, Apis dorstata
UPLB Bee Program 2009, 72 pages
3) Best management practices in Agriculture for sustainable use and conservation of pollinators
Sao Paulo University, Brazil – study on stingless bees
4) Pollination of Apis mellifera and Trigona biroi on the Productivity of Solanaceous Crops (Philippines)
Jose T. Travero et al
5) Pollination of cultivated plants in the tropics
Edited by David W. Roubik
Food and Agriculture Organization: Bulletin 118 Pub: FAO 1995 194 pages
6) Stingless: The bees of the future – an article about stingless bees in the Philippines
7) Bech’s organic Pili Nut farm