Wednesday 19 October 2011

Apis dorsata; No more Honey Please!

Apis dorsata, the biggest and most aggressive honey bee was my most familiar insects since my childhood to college days due to its omnipresence almost all over India and its swelling sting that I encountered.
 I had a fair share of experience with this most wonderful insect since my childhood days because of its aggressive mode and also its importance to the people.  
I still enjoy some of the finest moment that I used to observe during blooming season of different fruit crops like of Litchi, Pomelo, Mango and Ber in our orchard and how hundreds different kinds of insect including Apis dorsata creates unique sound while hovering the flowers.
 It was really nice to see and observe thousand of different insects including this Apis dorasata bee collecting nectar and pollen thus pollinating the flowers.
  But, this has become history now, as no such activities of Apis dorsata could be found in my area. In Tripura, there was the time, Apia dorsata used to be found abundantly in the forest and also, in village side.
This Apis dorsata bee used to forage on different kinds of flowers of forest and field crops. People used to collect honey from Apis dorsata bee hive frequently during the season.
 But, these days I do not see anyone speaking about collection of honey this is because now, there is no existence of Apis dorsata bee that used to be found in village side earlier.
In addition to Apis dorsata, another species of bee that is Apis indica which is comparatively smaller in size and can be domesticated was also used to be found abundantly in our area but again there is no existence of Apis indica in my area. This Apis indica used to dwell or make bee hive in cracks and crevices of building and trees.
Another small honey producing insect is Apis melipona under hymenoptera group which was prevalent in our area but, again this small insect is also not found now-a-days.
As far as Apis melipona is concerned, I have practical experience of working closely during my childhood days. I had reared Apis melipona in mud pot which was really enjoying that I still remember and enjoy those moment. But, everything has changed; the total ecosystem has changed.
There are few points that has affected greatly in alienating the honey bee population in Tripura and else where are briefly pointed below:-

Depletion of Forest coverage thus affecting Bee Forage.

 In Tripura, decade age total forest coverage was reported to be more than 60 percent but I do not know the present statistics. It has sharply declined as per some reports.
 This depletion of Forest coverage has not only brought down the timber yielding trees  but also several other forest species which was life support to the  honey bees for collection of nectar and pollen.
Honey bees collect nectar and pollen from several species of forest flower, crawlers, shrubs and herbs etc. There were a time people used to collect more than twenty kilograms of honey from a massive bee hive of Apis dorsata.
 As we know, number of colony size is directly proportional to the availability of nectar and pollen so is storage of honey in bee hive.
 This is indicative that there were several nectar and pollen yielding flowers available in the forest of Tripura at that time. But, decade’s exploitation of forest has completely deserted those valuable species thus affecting the honey bees’ population.

Forest fire

Another devastating reason for declining of Apis dorsata population in the state is perhaps forest fire. During the month of March and April when forest trees sheds leaves, forest coverage is dry, fire creates lots of devastation to the flora and fauna.
 It has greatly impacted on the Apis dorsata honey bees and many other fauna of forest species.
To relate again, the way people collect or extract honey from honey comb is also really devastating; it is by smoking and fire through which all the bees are driven out and in the process maximum bees become the casualty of smoke and fire.
Another critical aspect is whole beehive is disturbed in the process of honey collection. When honey is extracted by the people, either the whole bee hive is grounded or whole collection of honey in the hive is squeezed out.
In former case, collapse of all and in latter case, honey bees rarely comes back to old comb due to exhaustion of whole portion of honey stored in the bee hive.

Lack of forage

In Tripura, major crop being Rice which  is highly self pollinated crop does not yield nectar or attract honey bees. Moreover, during Rabi season, the cropping pattern does not look so promising in terms of easy flow of nectar for the honey bees. All these factors has slowly pushed this once formidable honey bees into oblivion and chances for their coming back also does not look so bright.

Unscrupulous use of pesticides.

Another most deleterious factor for diminishing of honey bees is in fact unscrupulous use of chemical pesticides in different nectar yielding crops.
 Pesticides poising is cause major concern especially where commercial bee keeping has come up on the periphery of field crops but unscrupulous usage of chemical pesticides has been reported to be killing the whole colony of a bee hive.
Of course, in Tripura this has partly influenced but other factors  as mentioned have that played significant roles against the honey bee population. The immediate affect of honey bee population that has directly impacted are as follows:-
1) Villagers  are deprived of natural honey
2)A loss of valuable and beneficial insect.
3)Affects on pollination of different cross pollinated crops and other forest species.
In my opinion, to regain the old glory, we have to be very much careful in preserving the natural forest, creating awareness to the people for  handling this insects and judicious use of pesticides would  help in restoration of this beneficial insect.

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