June 13, 2011

No Stinger, No Problem

During our second full day out at the CICRA research station in the rain forest, a few of us went out with Caroline and Dan, her colleague in her research in Amazonia Peru, to the area where they collect data.  Dan walked Joe, Tom, and Caroline, and I around the plot, showing us what has happened since Caroline’s last visit. Dan told us about the various insects he has spotted within the 1 Hectare plot (100 meters by 100 meters).  While doing this, he showed us a hive of Africanized bees (killer bees), different wasp nests, and an enormous bee hive, about 3 feet long by 2 feet tall, with some strange black bees Dan later tells us are from the genus Melipona.  Little did I know that this hive will give me one of the most memorable moments of the trip.

According to Dan, the Hymenopotera (wasps, bees, and ants) guy in our KU group, the bees were stingless so they couldn’t sting us.  I later asked him as to why nature would evolve to lose its defense against predators.  His respose, “I have no idea, it makes no sense to me.”  Naturally we weren’t worried about the nest as much as we should have been.  Next, Caroline became interested with the bees, and started to walk toward the hive.  She announced to us that the bees were all flying around outside of the hive.  I thought to myself that if she isn’t worried I should have no reason to worry as well. I guess Joe and Tom had the same mindset as me.  All of a sudden I felt a pinch followed by another and another.  Only then was it when I saw that we were under attack.

Apparently Dan forgot to mention that even though the bees can’t sting, they still have a form of defense against threats.  They bite.  They bite a lot.  So for the next 10 minutes we were all dealing with little black bees clinging to our skin and clothes biting.  Arms, face, neck, scalp, hands: they were all bitten.  It was comical after the initial shock of the attack, watching the bees that clung to our clothes, and watching everyone else deal with the same problem as me.  The whole situation instantly became hilarious when we realized we were picking bugs out of each other’s hair and off of each other’s backs.  According to Dan’s thinking the bees were just mad because they can’t sting so instead they bite like banshees.

Ever since, I’ve been sure to keep an eye out for all hives from any species.


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The Biodiversity Institute is home to about 60 graduate students and 30 research scientists and curators. They participate in field expeditions to all seven continents and represent areas such as entomology, ornithology, paleontology, parasitology and herpetology. As the authors of this blog, they share their experiences and adventures in collections-based biological research all over the world.

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