Copal resin and Amazon bees

by Campbell Plowden

Large stingless bee nest around palm tree at Jenaro Herrera, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Large stingless bee nest around palm tree at Jenaro Herrera, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The Center for Amazon Community Ecology has been studying the relationships between copal resin and insects at the Jenaro Herrera field station on the Ucayali River in Peru since 2006 to help develop sustainable methods to harvest this resin to make fragrant essential oil. While most of this research has focused on the weevils that form resin lumps on select trees, another fascinating part of this work is studying the bees that collect this and other plant resins to make their nests. Most are stingless bees, but they can still aggressively defend their nests against intruders.

Stingless bee collecting copal resin at Jenaro Herrera, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Stingless bee collecting copal resin at Jenaro Herrera, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our field team spends one day a month observing the bees that harvest copal. We also look for their nests to get a sense of how far they travel to collect this resource. We’ve found a wonderful diversity of bee nests in the forest – some from species that collect copal and others that don’t. So far we’ve seen a giant nest surrounding a tree, an entrance tube to a nest inside a hollow tree, a well-guarded dome-like entrance to an underground nest, and black and white oval entrances to bee nests inside termite nests. See more about our study and check out David Roubik’s classic book Ecology and Natural History of Tropical Bees to learn more about this intriguing topic.

Capturing samples of stingless bees at Jenaro Herrera. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Capturing samples of stingless bees at Jenaro Herrera. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

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2 responses to “Copal resin and Amazon bees

  1. Hello! I think your work is fantastic! I live in the Seattle, WA area and would love to purchase copal incense from you or a distributor connected with you?

    • Hi Stef,
      Thanks very much for your interest in our copal work and desire to buy copal incense from us. We have so far only been authorized to collect the resin for research so we are not yet able to sell any. We are now using our results to design a management plan for approval by government authorities so we can work with our community partners to sustainable harvest and sell copal resin and oil. Please stay tuned to our blog and Facebook page at: http://tinyurl.com/CACEorg-FB for updates.
      Best wishes,
      Campbell Plowden
      Executive Director, CACE

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