Are stingless bees moving north?
No one knows how they got there, but a colony of stingless bees was recently discovered at the Elizabeth Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, California. The scant information I’ve read came from an observation posted to iNaturalist on Sunday, March 31.
The bees are in the genus Plebeia, a member of the Meliponini tribe, which are often known as stingless honey bees. They do not normally occur north of the Mexican border and, as far as I know, they appeared to be living on their own.
The person who recorded the sighting, screen named “selwynq,” wrote that the garden manager of the Elizabeth Gamble Garden contacted someone to come and remove a bee nest from the premises. Upon seeing the bees, that person sent a specimen to an entomologist, who recognized the bees as Plebeia. After posting on iNaturalist, the bee was again identified as Plebeia by John Ascher of the National University of Singapore, an acclaimed specialist in bee identification and distribution.
It’s possible that someone imported the bees into the United States and then they escaped. It’s less likely that they traveled by themselves, although they could have nested in a vehicle or merchandise that moved north along the interstate highway. According to Google, the distance from Tijuana to Palo Alto is roughly 500 miles, but the bees probably originated further away than Tijuana. I haven’t found detailed distribution maps, but it seems the genus Plebeia is concentrated on the eastern side of Mexico, and south from there.
Regardless of how they got to Palo Alto, it’s amazing to know they were doing fine at the time they were spotted. I don’t know what was done about them, if anything. I also don’t know whether they are still there or if they managed to spread before being found. In any case, they are beautiful bees.
Special thanks to selwynq and iNaturalist.
Honey Bee Suite