Smithsonian’s Bee Man Delivers Up Some Advice for Dealing with Colony Collapse Disorder

January 17, 2014

Editor’s Note: The following article highlights the essential role of ongoing research in protecting pollinator health.

From: Smithsonian Magazine

David Roubik, who pioneered the field of tropical bee studies, says what will save them is a better understanding of their natural state

In a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of Panama City, David Roubik, one of the world’s top bee experts, led me into a cramped workshop at the back of his one-story, red-roofed house, pried open a wooden chest filled with bees, and told me to stick my hand in.

The chest held a hive of Melipona triplaridis, a beefy black- and yellow-striped bee with sleek wings and a tan coat of hairs around its thorax. As Roubik does with many hives, he had brought this one home by sawing its cavernous, amber-hued wax layers out of a tree somewhere in Panama’s tropical forests. He had just used a pocketknife to slice open a pea-sized pod on the hive’s surface and revealed a tiny pool of gold.

“That’s some of the best honey in the world,” he said. “Have a taste.”

It’s easy to trust Roubik. He looks a bit like Santa Claus and always is on the verge of a chuckle, and as a staff scientist at Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama City for 35 years, he is one of the closest things on earth to a walking bee encyclopedia. During his tenure, he has revolutionized the study of bees in the tropics, and established himself as a renowned authority on bee varieties including the Meliponini tribe, orchid bees and the invasive Africanized honeybee. He has been stung, without exaggeration, thousands of times in his life—his personal record is 50 times in a day—but he assured me as I lowered my hand into the chest of bees that Melipona triplaridis actually can’t sting; the species is one of roughly 550 tropical honey-making members of a tribe named Meliponini, commonly referred to as “stingless bees.”

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