The Weather Network – Rare stingless bees discovered by a four-year-old girl in California

Saturday, September 11, 2021, 2:39 p.m. – Scientists got the impression that the stingless bees had disappeared from the United States and went unnoticed for 70 years until Annika Arnout found them.

A child’s curious nature has led to the discovery of a rare species of bees that was believed to have long since vanished from the United States.

Four-year-old Annika Arnout, who lives in Palo Alto, California, recently came across two colonies of stingless bees, typically found in Brazil and other countries outside of North America. Stingless bees, also known as meliponins, are the largest group of eusocial bees in the world.

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Scientists believed that the bees had disappeared from the land and went unnoticed for 70 years until Arnout found them.

The colonies were sent for inspection to the State Department of Food and Agriculture and Stanford Professor George Shafer.

The stingless bees Arnout found were found to be likely descendants of bees introduced as USDA pollinators in the 1950s. During this time, the USDA was looking for bees to boost the size of the fruit and vegetable crops.

“In 1950 the USDA asked a Brazilian researcher to send them colonies of bees to see alternative pollinators,” Martin Hauser, a senior insect biosystematist, said in an interview with CBS News. “He sent her to Gainesville, Florida, Logan, Utah, and Davis and Palo Alto in the 1950s. And he said all the bees would have died in a year. “

Stingless bee / Tobias Smith, UQ
Stingless bees. (Tobias Smith, Great Britain)

Until almost 20 years ago, Hauser knew nothing of the existence of stingless bees from Brazil. He had received a filing from a “pest fighter” in Palo Alto, he said, initially thinking it was a prank.

Only the people who were sent to Shafer managed to live in Palt Alto for eight years, according to Hauser.


The stingless bees differ from honey bees in a number of ways, including body and colony size, brood biology, and queen production.

A clear difference between the two types is the morphological aspect in connection with the sting. This is a defense structure found in females of the species Apis mellifera (European honey bee), according to a study from 2019. Meanwhile, the females of the meliponins (stingless bees) do not have a sting, nor do they present a withered form of it. Instead, the subfamily Meliponinae had developed other defensive features such as a strong bite.

Stingless bee brood / Tobias Smith / UQ
Stingless bee brood (Tobias Smith, UQ)

More than 600 species of the stingless bees have been counted in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. They live in South America, Central America, south of North America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Northern Oceania. But a good number of them are found in Brazil, which contains more than 200 species in 29 genera.

Despite Arnout’s discovery, the bees are not official. Although accidental sightings have been around for more than 100 years, the insects still don’t have a name. However, to honor Arnout’s discovery, there were recommendations that the stingless bees from Brazil be called “Annika’s Bees”.

“It shows us when you have a new perspective with the eyes of a child, she just looked at it and she just has – there is something else for these bees,” said Hauser.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Tobias Smith, UQ (University of Queensland).

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