The Protector of Mexico’s Hidden Hives of Stingless Bees


EFRAIN CAB, A 34-YEAR-OLD BEEKEEPER who runs a hotline for stingless bees in need, stood in front of the wall of a hotel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, with a hammer in his hand.

He had responded to an emergency text from 11-year-old Eugenia, who had secretly contacted Cab from her mother’s phone. She wanted to save the bees her parents intended to fumigate.

Eugenia now pointed at a small hole in a brick wall.

“Put pieces of tissue inside your ear, and do not squash them when they get entangled in your hair. They’re just defending themselves,” Cab said with a stern look.

With precise movements, he started hammering the wall. As he cautiously pulled out the debris, a swarm of stingless bees poured out, flying into his beard, hair, and ears. Undeterred, Cab surgically removed the alien-looking hive and placed it inside a wooden box he had brought along. Cab’s face soon took on a sheen of sweat, as he strove not to hurt the swarm. Before closing the lid of the box, he added in the dazed bees who had not left the shelter, one by one, and made sure the queen was in the hive.

Cab checks on his hives periodically, to monitor their health and harvest some honey.
Cab checks on his hives periodically, to monitor their health and harvest some honey.

“Now they have to rest,” Cab said, visibly exhausted.

There are around 500 species of Meliponini stingless bees in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. 47 live in Mexico, and the most famous bee in the Yucatán peninsula is Melipona beecheii, known by the Mayans as Xunan Kab, or the Regal Lady Bee.

Meliponini honey is rare and expensive. In the United States, 250 grams of Meliponini honey costs around $50. Stingless bees live in small colonies and produce just over three pounds of honey per year, while their stinging counterparts produce almost 20 times more. They store their liquid honey in small waxy pots built into their hives. Its flavor is an explosion of acidity and sweetness, paired with an intense flowery fragrance.

But Cab doesn’t aim to profit off the bees for their honey. Loading the hive into his car, he drove it back to his home in the Playa del Carmen suburbs, where he runs Trigonario Urbano Cab, a hospital for rescued stingless bees. The rescued hive would rest and recuperate amongst 60 other colonies, before Cab would take them to their final home: a sanctuary he has built in the middle of the Mayan jungle.

<img src="; alt="Six <em>Melipona beecheii
Six Melipona beecheii eating liquid honey inside their hive.

Cab means bee,” Cab tells me, adding that he learned about bees from his father and grandfather, both beekeepers themselves. In fact, he claims that all his ancestors were Meliponini beekeepers. But it wasn’t until 2001 that he started taking care of his own hives. A friend working in construction asked him to pick up a colony that otherwise would have been destroyed. Then he saved a second hive, and then a third. News of his bee operation started spreading. Since then, Cab the beekeeper has saved more than 100 hives.

Via Atlas Obscura

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