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When the bees hit a brick wall October 10th, 2021 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Paul and I have written several stories recently about how farmers need to form communities. But when rural communities urbanize rapidly, people who want to stay in farming may be at risk.

Paola Espinoza is a beekeeper in the community of Apote, between the towns of Tiquipaya and El Paso, in the Cochabamba Valley of Bolivia. Her grandparents were peasant farmers in the valley, who sold their land and moved to the city of Cochabamba, where Paola grew up. But she never liked what she calls the “disorder” of city life.

Years ago, Paola married a young man from Germany, and the couple worked with an Argentine beekeeper, to learn how to manage an apiary. To raise bees, the couple bought 6,300 square meters of land (just over an acre and a half) in Apote, which was then a typical farming community. They began raising their own bees. This line of work suited Paola. She had early onset rheumatism, but she credits the pleasant, outdoor work and a diet rich in honey with restoring her health. Even though the couple eventually divorced and split their land between the two of them, Paola was still able to make a living from her apiary.

My wife, Ana and I met Paola a few days earlier at an agroecological fair, where she was selling her honey, wax candles, royal jelly, pollen and propolis. She gave us a well-written pamphlet with her name, phone number and a description of each of her products.

When we visited Paola recently at her home, she showed us her three dozen peach trees, which she keeps for the bees. She intentionally leaves some weedy plants, like wild brassica, growing around the trees. The bees were busy gathering pollen and nectar from the delicate yellow flowers.

Paola recently planted a cover crop of beans in the peach orchard, so the bees could forage in the legume flowers.

Paola works with her bees every afternoon, and she knows them well. In April and October, she can tell when it’s time to harvest the honey by the smell of the hives. She explains, “The bees harvest nectar, but as it turns into mature honey, it gets its own fragrance.” After 26 years as a beekeeper, Paola seems to know her business. We bought some of her honey to eat at home, and it is some of the best we have ever tasted. Her hives are neatly arranged in rows. They were all made by the same carpenter, an old man who has made her hives for years.

Unfortunately, Paola is worried about her future. Her own small farm, about a third of a hectare, is too small to provide all of the foraging area her 20 hives need. For years that was not a problem as the bees gathered from neighboring fields and orchards. It was a symbiotic relationship, where Paola got honey and the neighbors got their crops pollinated. But like much of the rest of the valley, Apote is rapidly filling up with houses. In many parts of the world, city people plant flowers, which help feed the bees, but in Cochabamba, most houses are built on plots of land too small to have much of a garden. As the valley urbanizes, it’s not clear if the bees will find the plants they need.

South of Paola’s land, there used to be a living fence of trees, but it’s recently been replaced by a brick wall. The day we visited, men were hard at work, building houses in what was once a field.

The bees used to fly off every day towards the south, Paola explains. Now she’s not sure where they will go. Beekeeping is the only way of life that Paola knows. She loves it and she is good at it and she wants to stay, but as the countryside becomes a city, she wonders if her bees will survive.

Farmers are sustained by their communities. Paola has her customers, her carpenter, and some young beekeepers that she mentors (and she buys their honey). She also belongs to an association of agroecological farmers supported by Agrecol Andes (which is where she learned about intercropping peaches with beans). That community is important, but a beekeeper also needs a landscape with lots of flowers, and not so many brick walls.

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ABEJAS ENTRE EL ASFALTO Y LA PARED

Por Jeff Bentley, 10 de octubre del 2021

Recientemente, Paul y yo hemos escrito varios blogs explicando que los agricultores necesitan comunidades. Pero la urbanización rápida puede cambiar esas comunidades, poniendo en apuros a la gente que todavía quiere dedicarse a la agricultura.

Paola Espinoza es apicultora en la comunidad de Apote, entre Tiquipaya y El Paso, en el valle de Cochabamba, Bolivia. Sus abuelos eran campesinos del valle, que vendieron sus tierras y se trasladaron a la ciudad de Cochabamba, donde Paola vivió su niñez. Pero nunca le gustó el “desorden” de la ciudad.

Hace años, Paola se casó con un joven alemán y la pareja trabajó con un apicultor argentino para aprender a manejar un apiario. Para criar abejas, la pareja compró 6,300 metros cuadrados de tierra en Apote, que entonces era una típica comunidad agrícola. Comenzaron a criar sus propias abejas. Este trabajo le caía bien a Paola. Ella tenía un reumatismo precoz, pero se sanó, y lo atribuye al trabajo ameno al aire libre y a una dieta rica en miel. Aunque la pareja acabó divorciándose y dividiendo sus tierras entre los dos, Paola pudo seguir viviendo de su apiario.

Mi esposa, Ana, y yo conocimos a Paola en una feria agroecológica, donde ella vendía su miel, velas de cera, jalea real, polen y propóleos. Nos dio un folleto bien escrito con su nombre, número de teléfono y una descripción de cada uno de sus productos.

Unos días después, visitamos a Paola en su casa, donde nos mostró sus tres docenas de durazneros, que mantiene para las abejas. Alrededor de los árboles, ella deja a propósito algunas hierbas, como el nabo silvestre. Las abejas se ocupaban de recoger polen y néctar de las delicadas flores amarillas.

Recientemente, Paola ha plantado frijol rojo entre los durazneros, para que las abejas puedan buscar alimento en las flores de las leguminosas.

Paola trabaja con sus abejas todas las tardes y las conoce bien. En abril y octubre, sabe cuándo es el momento de cosechar la miel por el olor de las colmenas. Explica: “Las abejas recogen el néctar, pero cuando se convierte en miel madura, su fragancia cambia”. Después de 26 años como apicultora, Paola conoce su negocio. Compramos un frasco de su miel para comer en casa, y es una de las mejores que jamás hemos comido. Sus colmenas están bien ordenadas en filas. Compra las cajas de un viejo carpintero, que las ha hecho durante años.

Infelizmente, Paola está preocupada por su futuro. Su pequeño terreno, de la tercera parte de una hectárea, es demasiado pequeño para alimentar a sus 20 colmenas. Durante años, eso no fue un problema, ya que las abejas trabajaban en los campos y huertos vecinos. Era una relación simbiótica, en la que Paola obtenía miel y los cultivos vecinos eran polinizados. Pero, como gran parte del resto del valle, Apote se está llenando rápidamente de casas. En muchas partes del mundo, la gente de las ciudades planta flores, que ayudan a alimentar a las abejas urbanas, pero en Cochabamba, la mayoría de las casas se construyen en parcelas muy pequeñas, y no hay campo para tener mucho huerto. A medida que el valle se urbaniza, no se sabe si las abejas encontrarán las plantas que necesitan.

Al sur del terreno de Paola antes había un cerco vivo de árboles, pero recientemente ha sido sustituido por un muro de ladrillos. El día que la visitamos, algunos hombres estaban trabajando duro, construyendo varias casas en lo que antes era una chacra y arboleda.

Las abejas solían volar todos los días hacia el sur, explica Paola. Ahora no sabe adónde irán. La apicultura es la única forma de vida que Paola conoce. Es capa, le encanta la apicultura, y no quiere empezar de nuevo en otro lugar, pero a medida que el campo se convierte en ciudad, se pregunta si sus abejas sobrevivirán.

Los agricultores forman comunidades. Paola tiene sus clientes, su carpintero y algunos jóvenes apicultores que asesora (y les compra la miel). También pertenece a una asociación agroecológica apoyada por Agrecol Andes (donde aprendió a sembrar frijoles entre los durazneros). Esa comunidad es importante, pero una apicultora también necesita un paisaje con muchas flores, y no tantas paredes de ladrillo.

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American bees March 1st, 2020 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

When the Spanish conquered the New World, the colonists who followed them brought honey bees. These European bees carried out their own version of the conquest, displacing a wide variety of stingless, native American bees. The native American people had known about these stingless bees and used their honey for centuries. Some, such as the Maya, kept bees for their honey, and many other peoples gathered honey from the wild.

The European honey bee is more aggressive and bigger than the American bees. The African honey bee and the European honey bee are sub-species of the same species, Apis mellifera. The European bee lives in large colonies of some 80,000 individuals, while the native bees live in smaller hives, of 3,000 or so. The American bees have suffered from the loss of forest habitat, and from competition with the European bees, which gather nectar from the same sources that the native bees need.

But the native American bees are making a comeback, as I learned recently on a course taught by two biologists who are experts in native American bees: Marcia Adler Yáñez from the Gabriel René Moreno Museum of Natural History in Bolivia and Oscar “Rupa” Amaya, who is Colombian, but a long-time resident of Brazil.

The American honey bees are a diverse lot, of at least 400 species. Some of the larger ones are as big as European honey bees, while some of the smaller ones are the size of a grain of rice.

The native American bees are gentle (some more than others) and although they do not have stingers, some species will bite to defend their nests. Unlike European bees, which put their honey in combs, native American bees keep their honey and pollen in little wax pots. The American bees have a complex nest structure. The queen lays her eggs in cells in a horizontal comb (unlike the vertical ones the European bees make). The combs of native bees can be disk shaped, or spiral or amorphous. The brood chambers, full of eggs in cells, are surrounded by a wax labyrinth, the involucrum, made to discourage ants and other predators. The pots of honey and pollen are placed around the involucrum.

One species of bee, called señorita, is known from Mexico to Argentina for its fine honey, widely regarded to be an eye ointment. A drop in each eye relieves pain and irritation.

Rupa and Marcia teach their students various techniques to care for native American bees. While keepers of European honey bees have made wooden boxes, or hives, for bee colonies, this was not a common practice for native American bees. In the past 30 years, bee experts in Brazil have adapted bee boxes for native American bees. These bee hives are smaller than those for European bees, but the boxes have thicker walls to keep the bees warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Rupa and Marcia also teach the use of a simple trap for capturing wild colonies. A plastic soda pop bottle, two-liters or larger, is covered in newspaper (to keep the nest warm) and black plastic (to keep it dark). A tube is placed in a small opening in the side of the bottle, making an inviting door to entice a young queen to set up her nest in the bottle. The bottle is hung on a tree in a forest with bees. In good bee habitat, bees may colonize the bottle within weeks. A skilled beekeeper can later transfer the colony to a proper, wooden hive.

Struggling colonies can be encouraged with an extra food supply. On the bee course, we learned how to make wax pots and fill them with honey or pollen gathered by European honey bees, which you can buy in the store. The native bees will eat the honey and convert the pollen to “bee bread” by using special enzymes. They will also use the wax from the pots to make their own brood cells and food pots.

Bees make wax with an organ in their abdomen, but wax is expensive. The bees need six or eight grams of honey to make a gram of wax. So, putting wax in the nests gives the bees a head-start and lets them start a colony faster.

Brazilian universities have been studying native American bees since the 1950s, and the techniques for keeping these bees are slowly spreading to other Latin American countries. There are also native bees in Australia, where some quite keen beekeepers use bee boxes similar to the Brazilian ones.

Native honey is thin, but sweet and it has a fine flavor. The larger species of native bees can make up to eight liters of honey a year, but the small species can only make about one liter, so this honey is expensive, but it is starting to appear in specialty shops.

We also met a Bolivian forester, Juan Carlos Aruquipa, who works on a project to teach women in the rainforest (the Yungas) to manage native bees, and to sell the honey. This is important, because many of the small flowers of tropical American trees must be pollinated by bees to set seed. And the bees feed on the nectar from the trees. So, without bees there are no trees, and without trees there are no bees.

This is a case where agriculture is moving forward in an imaginative direction, learning to care for wild bees, and to produce valuable honey. Bees need a lot of care, so they are difficult to handle on a massive, corporate scale. But they are perfect for smallholders, especially for women, who find the smaller hives and the gentle bees easier to handle. The little hives are ideal to keep at home. Native American bees are a new, creative direction for agroecological farming.

Scientific names

All bees, American, European, and others, belong to the family Apidae. The European, African and Asian bees with stingers belong to the genus Apis. The stingless, American, Australian and African bees belong to the tribe Meliponini. The large native bees are in the genus Melipona and the small ones are grouped into several genera, including Trigona, Scaptotrigona, Nannotrigona, and Tetratrigonisca. The señorita is Tetragonisca angustula. All of these bees are social. In the Americas and elsewhere there are many other bee species that are solitary, such as bumble bees.

Further reading

I have been interested in Native American bees for a long time, and give a short account of them in:

Bentley, Jeffery, W. and Gonzalo Rodríguez 2001 “Honduran Folk Entomology.” Current Anthropology,42(2):285-300.

LAS ABEJAS AMERICANAS

Por Jeff Bentley, el primero de marzo del 2020

Cuando los españoles conquistaron el Nuevo Mundo, los colonos que los siguieron trajeron abejas. Estas abejas europeas hicieron su propia versión de la conquista, desplazando a una gran variedad de abejas nativas americanas sin aguijón. Los indígenas conocían a estas abejas nativas y usaron su miel durante siglos. Algunos, como los mayas, guardaban abejas para su miel, y muchos otros pueblos recolectaban miel de la naturaleza.

La abeja europea es más agresiva y más grande que las abejas americanas. La abeja africana y la abeja europea son subespecies de la misma especie, Apis mellifera. La abeja europea vive en grandes colonias de unos 80.000 individuos, mientras que las abejas nativas viven en colmenas más pequeñas, de unos 3.000. Las abejas americanas han sufrido la pérdida de su hábitat forestal, y la competencia con las abejas europeas, que recogen el néctar de las mismas flores que las abejas nativas.

Pero hay nueva esperanza para las abejas nativas americanas, como aprendí recientemente en un curso impartido por dos biólogos expertos en abejas nativas americanas: Marcia Adler Yáñez del Museo de Historia Natural Gabriel René Moreno de Bolivia y Oscar “Rupa” Amaya, que es colombiano pero residente en Brasil desde hace mucho tiempo.

La abeja americana es un grupo muy diverso, de al menos 400 especies. Algunas de las más grandes son del tamaño de las abejas europeas, mientras que algunas de las más chicas son tan pequeñas como un grano de arroz.

Las abejas nativas americanas son relativamente mansos y a pesar de que no tienen aguijones, algunas especies muerden para defender sus nidos. A diferencia de las abejas europeas, que ponen su miel en panales, las abejas nativas americanas guardan su miel y polen en pequeños potes de cera. Las abejas americanas tienen un nido con estructura complicada. La reina pone sus huevos en celdas en un panal horizontal (a diferencia de los verticales que hacen las abejas europeas). Los panales de las abejas nativas pueden tener forma de disco, o de espiral o amorfo. Las celdas de las crías (huevos y larvas), están rodeadas por un laberinto de cera, llamado el involucre, hecho para confundir a las hormigas y otros depredadores. Los potes de miel y polen están fuera y alrededor del involucre.

Una especie de abeja, llamada la señorita, es conocida desde México hasta Argentina por su fina miel, ampliamente considerada como un ungüento para los ojos. Una gota en cada ojo alivia el dolor y la irritación.

Rupa y Marcia enseñan a sus estudiantes varias técnicas para cuidar a las abejas nativas americanas. Mientras que los guardianes de las abejas europeas han hecho cajas de madera, o colmenas, para las colonias de abejas, esta no era una práctica común para las abejas nativas americanas. En los últimos 30 años, los expertos en abejas de Brasil han adaptado colmenas para las abejas nativas. Estas colmenas son más pequeñas que las de las abejas europeas, pero las cajas tienen paredes más gruesas para mantener a las abejas calientes en el invierno y frescas en el verano.

Rupa y Marcia también enseñan el uso de una simple trampa para capturar colonias salvajes. Una botella de refresco de plástico, de dos litros o más grande, se cubre con papel de periódico (para mantener el nido tibio) y plástico negro (para mantenerlo oscuro). Se coloca un tubo en una pequeña apertura en el costado de la botella, haciendo una puerta atractiva para atraer a una joven reina a establecer su nido en la botella. La botella se cuelga de un árbol en un bosque con abejas; en un buen hábitat para las abejas, la botella puede albergar abejas en unas semanas. Un hábil apicultor puede más tarde transferir la colonia a una colmena de madera adecuada.

Las colonias débiles pueden ser fortalecidas con comida extra. En el curso de las abejas nativas, aprendimos a hacer potes de cera y llenarlas con miel o polen recolectado por las abejas europeas, que se puede comprar en la tienda. Las abejas nativas comerán la miel y convertirán el polen en “pan de abeja” usando enzimas especiales. También usarán la cera de los potes para hacer sus propias celdas de cría y ollas de comida.

Las abejas hacen cera con un órgano en su abdomen, pero la cera es cara de hacer. Las abejas necesitan seis u ocho gramos de miel para hacer un gramo de cera. Por lo tanto, poner cera en los nidos ayuda a las abejas a establecer una colonia más fuerte, más rápido.

Las universidades brasileñas han estudiado las abejas nativas americanas desde la década de los 1950, y las técnicas para mantener estas abejas se están extendiendo lentamente a otros países de América Latina. También hay abejas nativas de Australia, donde unos ávidos apicultores hacen cajas parecidas a las brasileñas, para criar abejas.

La miel nativa es menos espesa, pero dulce y tiene un sabor fino. Las especies más grandes de abejas nativas pueden hacer hasta ocho litros de miel al año, pero las especies pequeñas sólo pueden hacer un litro, por lo que esta miel es cara, pero está empezando a aparecer en tiendas especializadas.

También conocimos a un ingeniero forestal boliviano, Juan Carlos Aruquipa, que trabaja en un proyecto para enseñar a las mujeres del bosque lluvioso (los Yungas) a manejar las abejas nativas y vender la miel. Esto es importante, porque muchas de las pequeñas flores de los árboles tropicales americanos deben ser polinizados por las abejas para que formen semilla. Y las abejas se alimentan del néctar de los árboles. Así que sin abejas no hay árboles, y sin árboles no hay abejas.

Este es un caso en el que la agricultura avanza en una dirección imaginativa, aprendiendo a cuidar a las abejas silvestres, y a producir una valiosa miel. Las abejas necesitan cierto cuidado, por lo que son perfectas para los pequeños agricultores, especialmente para las mujeres. Las colmenas más pequeñas y las abejas más mansas son más fáciles de manejar. Sería difícil que las empresas grandes las manejan, pero las colmenas pequeñas son ideales para tener en casa. Las abejas nativas americanas son una nueva y creativa dirección para la agricultura agroecológica.

Nombres científicos

Todas las abejas, americanas y europeas, pertenecen a la familia Apidae. Las abejas europeas, africanas y asiáticas con aguijón pertenecen al género Apis. Las abejas americanas, australianas, y africanas sin aguijón pertenecen a la tribu Meliponini. Las abejas nativas grandes pertenecen al género Melipona y las pequeñas se agrupan en varios géneros, entre ellos Trigona, Scaptotrigona, Nannotrigona y Tetratrigonisca. La señorita es Tetragonisca angustula. Además de estas abejas sociales, en las Américas y en otros continentes hay muchas otras especies que son solitarias, como los abejorros.

Más información

Me han interesado las abejas nativas americanas por mucho tiempo, y doy una breve reseña de ellas en: Bentley, Jeffery, W. and Gonzalo Rodríguez 2001 “Honduran Folk Entomology.” Current Anthropology,42(2):285-300.

Learn by living July 29th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Carrasco National Park is the largest national park in Cochabamba, Bolivia. At over 6,000 square kilometers it is the size of Delaware, or twice the size of Luxembourg. It spans an impressive range of topographies, from the high Andes down to the rain forest. I was in the park recently with my family to see some of the sandstone caves. Our guide was a 15-year-old schoolboy named Samuel. We met him in the office of the accredited guides, next to the park rangers’ station.

Soon after we arrived, the ranger had sent Samuel a WhatsApp message, and he came quickly to lead the tour. Fortunately he was available, since school was on a two-week break. However, we got off to an inauspicious start. Samuel started his introduction talk in a soft, rapid mumble, like a bored student chanting a dull lesson. He seemed not to know or care what he was talking about. But first impressions were misleading, as we soon found out.

Some of my more patient family members were able to draw Samuel out. By the time he had taken us across a mountain stream in a hand-powered cable car, Samuel was explaining that the balsa tree, which gives the light wood for airplanes, is actually quite heavy when it is standing timber. He then told us about palo santo, a tree guarded by ants which clear plants from around the base of the tree and keep the branches free of epiphytes. In an earlier, crueler age, people guilty of theft and even minor crimes could be tied to the tree to be tortured by the ants which inject a white poison from the needles on their abdomen.

Samuel showed a tiny species of native, stingless bee that makes its nest inside a termite nest. The bees make a honey-colored tunnel which serves as a doorway and landing pad. The tunnel is barely visible, peeking out of the large termite nest. You have to be a patient observer, like Samuel, to notice this. I was delighted to learn about the bees that move in with the termites. I have loved these little golden bees for years, but never seen them living in termite nests.

Samuel also took us to the entrance of the cave of the oil birds. Much like bats, the birds live in caverns, fly out at night and eat the fruit of palms and trees. Later, the birds regurgitate the seeds onto the cave floor. Samuel picked up six seeds from the stream flowing from the cave. He recognized all six species by their seed, which he picked out of the muck puked out by the birds.

Samuel may not have been much of a showman, but he knew his stuff. He had grown up in the area, the son of settlers from the Andes, so he had learned much about the forest by his own observations. Samuel wants to study tourism, and keep working in the park. He taught me once again the importance of being patient and willing to learn from others. Appearances can be deceiving and one wouldn’t normally expect a shy 15 year-old to be an expert naturalist. But you can always learn something if you’re willing to listen.

The palm and tree species identified by Samuel are:

Laurel (Spanish elm) Cordia aliodora. Palta laurel (unidentified). Pachubilla or caminante (walking palm) Socratea exorrhiza. Majo (açaí) Euterpe oleracea. Tembe (peach palm) Bactris gasipaes. Ramoncilla (a palm) Trichilia pallida

Other species mentioned

The oil bird is Steatornis caripensis. The stingless bee is Melipona sp.

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Ana Gonzales for identifying the palm and tree species.

APRENDER VIVIENDO

Por Jeff Bentley

29 de julio del 2018

El Parque Nacional Carrasco es el parque nacional más grande de Cochabamba, Bolivia. Con más de 6.000 kilómetros cuadrados, tiene dos terceras el área de Puerto Rico. Abarca una impresionante gama de topografías, desde los altos Andes hasta el bosque lluvioso. Estuve en el parque recientemente con mi familia para ver algunas de las cuevas de piedra arenisca. Nuestro guía era un estudiante de 15 años llamado Samuel. Lo encontramos en la oficina de los guías acreditados, al lado de la estación de los guardaparques.

Poco después de llegar, el guardabosques le envió a Samuel un mensaje por WhatsApp, y él vino rápidamente para dirigir la gira. Afortunadamente estaba disponible, ya que el colegio estaba en un receso de dos semanas. Sin embargo, tuvimos un comienzo desfavorable. Samuel comenzó su charla de introducción en un murmullo suave y rápido, como un estudiante aburrido cantando una lección aburrida. Parecía no saber o interesarse de lo que estaba hablando. Pero las primeras impresiones fueron engañosas, como pronto descubrimos.

Algunos de mis familiares más pacientes pudieron ganar la confianza de Samuel. En el tiempo que tardó en llevarnos a través de un riachuelo en un teleférico manual, Samuel explicaba que el árbol de balsa, que da la madera liviana para aviones, en realidad es bastante pesada cuando está en pie. Luego nos contó sobre el palo santo, un árbol protegido por hormigas que limpian las plantas de alrededor de la base del árbol y mantienen las ramas libres de epífitas. En una edad anterior y más cruel, las personas culpables de robo e incluso delitos menores podían ser atadas al árbol para ser torturadas por las hormigas que inyectan un veneno blanco de las agujas en su abdomen.

Samuel mostró una pequeña especie de abeja nativa sin aguijón que hace su nido dentro de un nido de termitas. Las abejas forman un túnel de color miel que sirve como entrada y plataforma de aterrizaje. El túnel es apenas visible, asomándose desde el gran nido de termitas. Tienes que ser un observador paciente, como Samuel, para fijarte en esto. Yo estaba encantado de aprender sobre las abejas que viven con las termitas. Hace muchos años que amo a estas pequeñas abejas de oro, pero nunca las he visto viviendo en nidos de termitas.

Samuel también nos llevó a la entrada de la cueva de los guácharos. Son pájaros que, igual que los murciélagos, viven en cavernas, vuelan de noche y comen fruta de palmeras y árboles. Más tarde, las aves regurgitan las semillas en el suelo de la cueva. Samuel recogió seis semillas de la quebrada que fluía de la cueva. Reconoció las seis especies por sus semillas, vomitadas por los pájaros, que recogió del lodo.

Samuel no era muy teatrero, pero sabía lo que hacía. Él había crecido en la zona, hijo de colonos de los Andes, por lo que había aprendido mucho sobre el bosque por sus propias observaciones. Samuel quiere estudiar turismo y seguir trabajando en el parque. Él me enseñó una vez más la importancia de ser paciente y estar dispuesto a aprender de los demás. Las apariencias engañan y uno normalmente no esperaría que un quinceañero tímido fuera un experto naturalista. Pero siempre puedes aprender algo si estás dispuesto a escuchar.

Las palmeras y árboles identificadas por Samuel son:

Laurel Cordia aliodora. Palta laurel (no identificada). Pachubilla o caminante Socratea exorrhiza. Majo Euterpe oleracea. Tembe Bactris gasipaes. Ramoncilla Trichilia pallida.

Otras especies mencionadas 

El guácharo es Steatornis caripensis. La abejita es Melipona sp.

Agradecimiento

Gracias a Ana Gonzales por identificar las especies de palmeras y árboles.

 

Ants in the kitchen May 8th, 2016 by

E.O. Wilson (renowned biologist and the world’s expert on ants) says that when he gives a talk to the general public, the question they most often ask him is “What can I do about the ants in my kitchen?”

No topic is too small for discussion when it is close to home, and some people loathe being invaded by ants in the very heart and hearth of home. This is the answer which Professor Wilson gives them, words which he says come straight from his heart:

“Watch your step, be careful of little lives. They especially like honey, tuna and cookie crumbs. So put down bits of those on the floor, and watch closely from the moment the first scout finds the bait and reports back to her colony by laying down an odor trail. As a little column follows her out to the food, you will see social behavior so strange it might be on another planet.

Edward O. Wilson (2014: 94-95)

It’s a charming answer, but probably not quite what people want to hear.  I’ve been reading Wilson’s books on ants for years, and based on that, and personal experience, I have some practical advice for the ant-fearing public.

You can kill quite a lot of ants without doing the colony much harm. Worker ants spend their younger days at tasks inside the colony. At the end of their lives, worker ants become foragers, which is a dangerous job. That is why the ants send their oldsters to forage for food. When you kill ants, you kill the ones whose days are already numbered anyway. And there are many thousands of other ants at home ready to replace the ones you kill.

The best solutions are to separate the ants from their food.

Good housekeeping. Ants patrol constantly, looking for scraps of food. When they find a morsel they recruit others, and that is when you probably first notice them. You can frustrate the ants in your kitchen by sweeping the floor, and by wiping up crumbs and spills. And don’t take food from the kitchen to the rest of the house.

ant moatThe honey moat. Ants can’t cross water. Keep your honey jar sitting in a small dish of water. The ants will not be able to get to the honey. Change the water once in a while, because if honey is dissolved in the water, the ants will go to the edge of the water to drink it.

Glass jars or other airtight plastic containers provide a physical barrier. Keep sugar and other sweet treats in tightly closed jars.

Moving time. Ants follow a trail that leads from the food back to the nest. Once they are off the trail, the ants are hopelessly lost. If you set some food down and the ants get into it, and you want to get them out of your snack, just move the food to a different surface. The ants will leave, and wander around lost. It will take the other ants a while to find the treat again, and before the ants find your snack again, you should be able to eat it. If you are in a hurry you can gently tap the food as you move it around, which will send most of the ants running.

airtight sugarDeep freeze. If ants get into your sugared cereal, and you can’t bear to throw it away, put the whole box into the freezer. The ants will die. The brave at heart will still be able to eat the cereal. You will hardly notice the dead ants, plus they are good for you.

Don’t poison your children. If after all this, you still want the quick fix of instantly wiping out a whole ant column (that line of ants moving from nest to food), don’t reach for that can of insecticide. It is poisonous and it lingers on your kitchen counters. Plain, ordinary medicinal alcohol is absolutely lethal to ants, and safer for humans. Alcohol evaporates without a trace. It’s cheap and you can buy it at the drug store. You can soak a cloth with alcohol or pour it into a spray bottle, and squirt it onto the poor ants.

Even after you have out-smarted the ants in your kitchen, you may still see a few from time to time, tidying up a bread crumb you left behind, or carrying away that dead cockroach that you really don’t want to touch. Wilson says that humans can learn nothing from ants about living in large, modern cities. (After all, we have little in common with ants). Yet Wilson may be overstating his case. We should at least be able to learn to tidy up after ourselves.

Further reading

Hölldobler, Bert, and Edward O. Wilson 1990 The Ants. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Wilson, Edward O. 2014 The Meaning of Human Existence. New York: Liveright Publishing. 208 pp.

Apple blossom honey September 20th, 2015 by

When the Soviet Union broke apart, the collective farms of Kyrgyzstan were split up among the workers, with larger shares going to those who had worked the most years. Now, some 35 years later, the family farm is doing well.

My colleagues and I visited some of these farms near the eastern end of Lake Issyk Kul (“Warm Lake”) which never freezes in the winter, and has long attracted settlers to its sheltered shores.

talay lifts lidOne of the Kyrgyz farmers, Talay, is a veterinarian by training, and although he occasionally charges for advice on animal health, he makes a comfortable living as a smallholder farmer, on his three hectares of land. He has six cows, 26 horses and a dozen sheep, which all spend the winter in a warm barn eating the alfalfa that Talay has harvested for them.

In the summer the animals graze in the mountain pastures and later on the stubble of the harvested fields. It’s a better life for the animals than a factory farm. A modern milk plant sends a contractor to collect the milk for Talay and the other village households, providing them with a modest, but steady cash income.

The farm families have time for the occasional party, when a horse is slaughtered to feed the guests. Horse is good to eat, but the neighbors will speak more approvingly of a two-horse party.

bee polen trapTalay takes the most pride in his 26 beehives, nestled among his apple trees. “Bees and apples depend on each other,” he explains. The apples need the bees to pollinate them, and the bees need the nectar from the trees to make honey (50 kilos per hive per year, worth about $5400).

Talay gathers the honey three times during the summer. Each time, the honey is richer. His pure, dark honey is so well known that people drive six hours from the capital city, Bishkek, to buy it.

Talay also collects pollen from the bees. He puts a little trap with small round holes over the door of the hive. The bees scrape the pollen off their legs as they crawl home.

Propolis is a waxy stuff laden with antibiotics. Bees lay propolis down in the hive to preserve the honey. Talay scrapes up the propolis into greenish grey balls. It is expensive, but he gives most of it away to people who want to use it as medicine.

Nothing is wasted, not the wax, not even the bodies of the bees, when they die. Talay boils three tablespoons full of bees in a cup of water for a few minutes. He drinks the infusion, and says that it is good for hypertension. Talay also sells seven tons of apples a year (from 5800 square meters of orchard), and the family grows their own potatoes, wheat, berries and vegetables.

propolisOver lunch, of mutton stew, homemade bread, honey and jam, the family explained that their oldest daughter is a medical doctor. The second daughter is studying economics and the third is at an institute for foreign languages. The two youngest children are boys. Talay wants to give the farm to the older of the two, and then retire on the farm. It seemed like long-term planning, since the boy was only ten.

“What if he doesn’t want to be a farmer?” someone asked.  “He has already shown great interest in it,” Talay says, drawing the boy near.

I envied that little boy more than his successful sisters or anyone else in the room. It is no wonder that the family farm survived collectivization. The farm and the family are well suited to each other, like the bees and the apples.

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