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Jicote Bees in Costa Rica: Melipona and Other Species of Tube Bees

Updated on May 27, 2012
Melipone bees approaching the access tube to the hive in a rock wall of my postage-stamp sized garden.
Melipone bees approaching the access tube to the hive in a rock wall of my postage-stamp sized garden. | Source
Trigona ziegleri, the species of stingless bee which resides in my rock wall.
Trigona ziegleri, the species of stingless bee which resides in my rock wall.

There Are Many Species of Stingless Bees

Jicote (Melipone beechii and Trigona ) bees are wild bees that can be found throughout Central America. These diminutive creatures have been used by indigenous cultures within this region to produce honey since the times of the Mayans. In recent times, they are also being investigated for the pollination of commercial crops.

I happen to have a hive at my home in the middle of the town of Liberia. It is curious to me, however, why they would make a home in a crevice in the rock wall of my garden. Normally, they would make a home in a hollow of a tree, or in human-altered logs made by indigenous bee keepers. However, I recently also saw a hive in a hole in the embankment alongside a dirt road on the way to Rio Celeste.

These bees are known commonly as "stingless" bees, although they can produce a welt like a mosquito bite when disturbed. They are part of the same group of bees as the European honey bee, Apis mellifera , but they are of a different family, the Meliponinae , which includes the species Melipone and Trigona . Costa Rica has two distinct species bearing the name of the country, Melipone costarricense and Trigona costarricense , as well as several other species.

Anecdotal accounts belie the medicinal qualities of the honey produced by these bees, and in ancient Mayan times the honey was used in religious ceremonies. I have also read that Nicaraguan women use the honey in a beauty-mask recipe as well, mixing the honey with dried milk.

Trigona Bees in a Tree Near Nacoscolo Beach

Stingless Bee Honey

Jicote honey (miel de jicote ), which is commonly available in both Nicaragua and Costa Rica, is prized for its medicinal qualities and costs about 3 times that of honey from Africanized honeybees (AHB). In Nicaragua, it is used as a directly applied cure for conjunctivitis and It is used to sweeten a tea to help mothers recover after they give birth. I have heard of the later use here in Costa Rica. Another use for the honey is as a component in a beauty mask formula.

The Jicote honey has a higher moisture content than AHB honey and smells more perfume-like. The stingless bees don't produce as much volume as the AHB, but beekeepers have safer bees to work with and they get a better price for their product. There are other advantages: they don't require treatment for the parasite varroa and they can be raised in simple boxes without frames. Raising melapona bees for honey production is thus a means of making significant income for rural people in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.


Two tubes that provide an entrance to a Tetragonisca stingless bees hive, El crucero, Managua, Nicaragua.
Two tubes that provide an entrance to a Tetragonisca stingless bees hive, El crucero, Managua, Nicaragua. | Source

Mayan Use of Stingless Bees for Honey Production

Production of honey from stingless bees in Central America has been known since the times of the Mayan people, who documented the practice and revered the bee enough to create a bee god. Of the approximately 500 species of stingless bees, the one bee that was preferred by the Mayans was Melipona beechii . Cultures of that bee are still maintained by a few in the Yucatan Peninsula, however it is a dying art, because of the loss of natural habitat used by the bee and because many old men who know the art of dividing the bee colonies have passed away. Extinction of this bee is a concern. For commercial production of honey, the use of AHB is more attractive as well due to the volume of honey produced. Unfortunately, the AHB competes for pollen sources in many areas as well.

Miel de Jicote - Honey from Jicote Bees Photo

Label from a 1/2 liter bottle of miel de jicote, made in Nicaragua.  Funny that it has a picture of an Africanized honeybee.
Label from a 1/2 liter bottle of miel de jicote, made in Nicaragua. Funny that it has a picture of an Africanized honeybee. | Source

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    • profile image

      Robert 

      4 years ago

      I was stung by a jicote bee on the left side of my nose and the left side of my face was so swolen that wy left eye was closed.

      One of my friends was stung on top of his head and bomited several

      times through the nigt. We were 10 years old robbing the honey from

      the nest in an abandoned rabbit hole. The honey was in wax sacs clustered together, not a hohey comb. Tis was in Zacatecas, Mexico.

    • Randy M. profile imageAUTHOR

      Randy McLaughlin 

      5 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica

      HWL: here is a link you should check out. It is in Spanish and it discusses active work in this area. http://www.agriculturesnetwork.org/magazines/latin...

    • Randy M. profile imageAUTHOR

      Randy McLaughlin 

      5 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica

      Yes and yes.

    • profile image

      HWL 

      5 years ago

      do these bees live on the south Caribe side and can they be cultivated for honey production?

    working

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