Stingless Bees, Ant and Scales!

Dear All – Hello many greetings and thanks to everyone for the kind comments.

I was just in the Kakamega forest where I spent part of the day climbing Lirhanda Hill. At the top of the hill as I paused to catch my breath and cool down in the shade of a Combretum tree, I was startled by a loud cloud of buzzing bees.

At first I flinched, then I saw that they were stingless bees. These are amazing little bees, who live in colonies and make honey, just like the typical honeybees that we are all familiar with. However, the don’t sting and can be watched closely and enjoyed less nervously.

The bees settled down and perched on the lower branches of the tree. I peered closer and was amazed by what I saw. The bees were greedily feeding from small brown lumps on the bark of the young branch. Looking really close revealed that they were licking the brown lumps – which turned out to be scale insects!

Stingless bees gathering on the branch!
Stingless bees gathering on the branch!

The stingless bees were frantically crawling all over the branch imbibing sugary rewards from the scale insects. Stingless bees are important pollinators in the rainforest, but here they were simply a mob of thieves!

Stingless bees licking the scale insects.
Stingless bees licking the scale insects.

The scale insects are actually a carefully tended herd belonging to some Polyrachis ants who were also on the trees. The ants lovingly tend the scale insects and milk them for honeydew, much like we keep cows for milk.

Amazingly, the ants were oblivious to the plundering of their ‘cows’ by the stingless bees. They both fed from the scale insects side-by-side.

Stingless bee and Polyrachis ant feeding side-by-side
Stingless bee and Polyrachis ant feeding side-by-side

The ants were far outnumbered by the stingless bees – that may be why they didn’t try to chase them off!

The ants were out-numbered by the stingless bees
The ants were out-numbered by the stingless bees

The many wily ways of insects making a living are truly amazing. You can learn so much from just watching bugs for even a few minutes! More from the wonderful world of insects soon!

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