The economic and cultural values of stingless bees (Hymenoptera: Meliponini) among ethnic groups of tropical America


  • José Javier G Quezada-Euán Departamento de Apicultura, Campus Ciencias Biológicas y Agropecuarias, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán
  • Guiomar Nates-Parra Departamento de Biología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, DC. Colombia
  • Marcia M. Maués Embrapa Amazônia Oriental Laboratório de Entomologia Belém, Pará, Brasil
  • David W Roubik Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Balboa, Ancón, Republic of Panama
  • Vera Lucia Imperatriz-Fonseca Instituto Tecnológico Vale Belém- Pará CEP 66055-090 Brazil



Indigenous local knowledge, stingless honey bee, meliponiculture, cultural value.


Stingless honey bees— commonly known as stingless bees— have long provided food and materials to the inhabitants of tropical America. We conducted a literature search to codify available information, including non-peer reviewed ‘grey literature’, on the purported value of stingless bees to indigenous people. Among >400 species of Neotropical stingless bees several are widely used in beekeeping. Varied cultural and economic values are associated with their use, and in some cases husbandry, as a consequence of ongoing contact between people and these social insects. Adapting new species to husbandry is being attempted in many countries. The bees remain culturally important, and beliefs associated with them are significant for different groups, beyond utilization as commodities. We find values in food, craft, religion and medicine, with cultural values ranging from utilitarian to mythological.

Values transmitted across generations allow cohesion and communal identity of native organisms associated with any indigenous society. Such cultural values seem in danger of extinction, primarily due to external factors. We provide examples of successful regional strategies in averting cultural and economic loss in natural human heritage, in this case bees that provide honey and other benefits. Preserving stingless bees and the cultural heritage around them provides a good example on how the sustainable use of native species can help in the development of indigenous communities. Bees are important agents for conservation of the environment.

Author Biography

Guiomar Nates-Parra, Departamento de Biología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, DC. Colombia



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How to Cite

Quezada-Euán, J. J. G., Nates-Parra, G., Maués, M. M., Roubik, D. W., & Imperatriz-Fonseca, V. L. (2018). The economic and cultural values of stingless bees (Hymenoptera: Meliponini) among ethnic groups of tropical America. Sociobiology, 65(4), 534–557.




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