Bee invaders attracted to fragrant gardens

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For the second year in a row, the Al-Waha District, south of Alkhobar has become home to colonies of dwarf bees. Attracted by the flowering gardens of private homes in the suburb near the Arabian Gulf, the bees have built their combs suspended from window ledges, under trellises and even attached to the security grills covering windows.

According to Dr. Ahmad Al Khazim Al Ghamdi, professor of Apiculture, College of Food and Agricultural Sciences, King Saud University, these dwarf bees or Apis florea, are native to India. About one-fourth the size of European honeybees who build many combs, dwarf bees build just one comb. Although in some countries these bees make their hives in bushes or trees out in the open, in the Saudi heat the dwarf bees tend to look for a well-shaded area near flowering plants.

The Barnsley Beekeepers Association in South Yorkshire, England advises that “dwarf bees are probably the most distinct of all honeybee species and are believed to have separated from the other lineages of honeybee some 40 million years ago. The dwarf honeybee provides a ‘snap-shot’ of what the early honeybees may have been like.”

Not everyone is pleased to have the bees in residence. Dwarf bees collect and metabolize propolis, a sticky resin secreted by trees. They use the propolis to seal small gaps in their hive and to keep crawling insect invaders away.  Propolis is usually found at the point where the hive is connected to another structure, such as a tree branch or windowsill. On a tree or bush, propolis isn’t much of a problem for the homeowner. But when the hive is built suspended from a building’s structure or decorative features, propolis can create dark brown stains which are difficult to remove — even after the bees have departed and the hive is taken down.

Dr. Abdulaziz Saad Mohammed Al Qarni, associate professor, College of Food and Agricultural Sciences, King Saud University advised that it is best to have a professional beekeeper remove large hives of dwarf bees. However, these bees are not as vicious as European honeybees and their sting is not as severe as honeybees, so if they are not in an inconvenient location, it’s good for the environment if they are simply left in place. They cannot be removed and relocated as honeybees often are. If dwarf bees are disturbed or their hive is destroyed, they either fly away to regroup elsewhere, or die. Only a small quantity of honey is produced by dwarf bees and it is usually bitter, so they are not attractive as honey producers.

Dwarf bees are prized as pollinators. According to the UN Environment Program, of 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, more than 70 are pollinated by bees. In Al Waha District, the homes that attract dwarf bees are surrounded by flowering plants on which the bees feed. To keep the bees safe, homeowners must be cautious in their use of pesticides, both on plants and fogged into the air.

Last January when the nights became colder and flowers were no longer in bloom, the dwarf bees migrated en masse, their hives left behind. Where they went is unclear. There is every reason to believe that they will behave the same way again this winter.


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