Bees may be small creatures, but the role that they play in the environment is a very important one. The tiny hairs found on the bodies of these insects allow them to carry pollen from one flowering plant to another, and this process—called pollination—is how seed-bearing fruits, vegetables, grains and other crops grow.
Sri Lanka is home to nearly 150 species of bees—and four of these species of bee produce their own honey.
According to Beekeeping for Honey Production in Sri Lanka by Dr. R.W.K. Punchihewa, all species of honey bees found in Sri Lanka belong to the family Apidae. The names of these species are the Asian hive honey bee (Apis cerana), the giant honey bee (Apis dorsata), the dwarf honey bee (Apis florea), and a species of stingless honeybee called dammar bees (Trigona iridipennis).
The South Asian Honey Bee
If you come across a covered bee’s nest that is suspended in a dark space—like a hollow tree trunk or a rock cavity—it is most likely to be a colony of Asian honey bees. They can be found quite commonly throughout the urban and rural landscapes of Sri Lanka.
The Dwarf Honey Bee
Known as danduwel in Sinhalese, Dr. Punchihewa notes that these little bees are called dwarf honey bees because of their small size when compared with the other species of the honey bee. They are reddish brown in colour, and prefer to build their nests in open areas.
The nests are constructed with one single layer of honeycomb and are completely exposed. They can usually be found suspended from tree branches.
Predatory red ants are a problem the dwarf honey bees face by building open nests. As a solution to this, the dwarf honey bees apply a sticky coat of resin on the tree branch from which their nest hangs.
The Giant Honey Bee
Giant honey bees are better known by their Sinhala name which is Bambara. The Bambara—especially those atop Sigiriya—have an unfortunate reputation for being vicious. But their defensiveness owes to the fact that they—like the dwarf honey bees—build fragile, exposed nests in open areas. So it is best to be cautious in any area where giant honey bees have made nests.
The Dammar Bee
This is the only variety of stingless bees in Sri Lanka. While the other species of honey bees on the island use their sting to defend their nests, the dammar bees defend their colonies by biting intruders.
Another factor that makes this bee different from the other honey bee species in Sri Lanka is the way its nest is constructed. While the other honey bees create nests are always suspended from above and made out of beeswax, the dammar bees make their nests at the bottom of a nest site—or protected cavity—with a mixture of plant resin and beeswax.
The Ecological Importance Of Bees
“In Sri Lanka, many cultivated crops such as vegetables and coconut need bees for the process of pollination to take place. At one time, coconut cultivators used to rear bees on the estates in order to get a better yield of coconuts”
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