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The smallest honeybee?


A dammer bee nest. The key is pointing at one member of the colony.

I thought India had four types of honeybees, but on a trip last month I discovered a fifth which is so small it is all too easy to overlook, but its honey is highly prized in Indian medicine.

Alongside Apis cerana, Apis dorsata, Apis florea and Apis mellifera (non-native), India has the dammer bee or Melipona irridipennis.

It’s very tiny (3mm long), has no sting and I was shown two nests: one in a house wall and another in an electric fuse box. I had walked past both without noticing them at all.

They can produce up to 700 gm of honey each year, but this small amount can fetch very good prices: about twenty times the price of other honeys because it is favoured in Ayurvedic medicine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to taste any, but it is said to be not overly pleasant.

The dammer bee has no sting, but it can fend off unwanted intruders with its bite, sometimes mixed with propolis for added irritation.

As well as producing valuable honey, the dammer bee is of course a very good pollinator. Both of the nests I was shown were on coffee plantations in southern India, one in Coorg, Karnataka, and the other at Ecoscape in Tamil Nadu.

There seems to be a growing interest in dammer bekeeping and some new style dammer beehives are being developed. But as you can see below, the dammer bees have their own ideas of ideal nesting spots.


The dammer bee nest is in the electric box above the door to my bedroom in Coorg, Karnataka, India.


The entrance to the tiny nest can be seen at the foot of the wall at the bottom of the photo. The house is in a valley near Wayanad, southern India.












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