Bees From the Other End of the Continent

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

By Rocío González-Vaquero

Editor's note: While the NBSBC was created with a focus on the native bees of British Columbia, it has given us the opportunity to connect globally with other bee enthusiasts. This has allowed us to create connections and learn more about bee species worldwide. The following is a guest post from Dra. Rocío González-Vaquero, a biologist from Argentina. If you’d like to learn more about native bees in Argentina, you can follow her on Instagram and Facebook @abejasnativasargentinas.

Argentina, located at the southern tip of South America, is the home of more than 1100 species of wild bees. This country hosts a great variety of ecoregions. In the north, there is the arid Puna, Chaco, and the Yungas and Paranaense forests; to the south, there are woods of Nothofagus in the Andes and the windy Patagonian steppe. Other important ecoregions within Argentina include the wetlands, espinal, the rolling pampa grasslands, and the Argentine Monte. These distinct environments hold many endemic species: bees adapted to the local weather conditions which can only be found there. Much of the original ecosystem has been replaced by commercial agriculture, but a high diversity can still be found even in highly degraded areas like the rolling pampas. While sweat bees (Lasioglossum (Dialictus) spp. and augochlorines) sometimes outnumber other bees in agroecosystems (Le Feon et al. 2015), stingless bees (Meliponini) are among the most abundant species in the north.

Stingless bees are social and produce honey, like the honey bee (Apis mellifera). Though they lack a sting, some species can fiercely defend the vicinity of their nest by entangling the hair of the invader mammal, or by getting into the ears or nostrils. Due to these behaviors some receive the name of “enrolla cabello” (hair entangler) or “peluquerito” (little hairdresser). Stingless bees produce honey in smaller quantities than the domestic bee, but it is a valuable resource for rural communities since it is used to treat several illnesses, besides its mere consumption. These bees nest underground or in trees, and extractive exploitation is known to be frequent. The rational raising and handling of stingless bee hives for honey production, called meliponiculture, is a recent practice in the country (Roig Alsina et al. 2013).

Figure 1: Trigona spinipes, locally known as “carabozá” or “enrolla cabello”, is a stingless bee managed in Misiones (Argentina) for honey production.