Wasps, aphids and ants: the other honey makers



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Myrmecocystus honeypot ants, showing the repletes, their abdomens swollen to store honey, above ordinary workers.
Greg Hume via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Manu Saunders, University of New England

There are seven species of Apis honey bee in the world, all of them native to Asia, Europe and Africa. Apis mellifera, the western honey bee, is the species recognised globally as “the honey bee”. But it’s not the only insect that makes honey.

Many other bee, ant and wasp species make and store honey. Many of these insects have been used as a natural sugar source for centuries by indigenous cultures around the world.




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By definition, honey is a sweet, sticky substance that insects make by collecting and processing flower nectar. The commercial association between honey and honey bees has mostly developed alongside the long-term relationship between humans and domesticated honey bees.

This association is also supported by the Codex Alimentarius, the international food standards established by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. The Honey Codex mentions only “honey bees” and states that honey sold as such should not have any food additives or other ingredients added.

Oh honey, honey

Biologically, there are other insect sources of honey. Stingless bees (Meliponini) are a group of about 500 bee species that are excellent honey producers and are also managed as efficient crop pollinators in some regions. Stingless bees are mostly found in tropical and subtropical regions of Australia, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Americas.




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Their honey is different in taste and consistency to honey bee honey. It has a higher water content, so it’s a lot runnier and tastes quite tangy. Stingless bee honey is an important food and income source for many traditional communities around the world.

Harvesting “sugarbag”, as it’s known in Australia, is an important cultural tradition for indigenous communities in northern and eastern regions.

A sugarbag bee.
James Niland/Flickr, CC BY

Stingless bee honey production hasn’t reached the commercial success of honey bee honey, mostly because stingless bee colonies produce a lot less honey than an Apis honey bee hive and are more complicated to harvest. But keeping stingless bees in their native range for honey, pollination services and human well-being is an increasing trend.

Bumblebees also make honey, albeit on a very small scale. The nectar they store in wax honey pots is mostly for the queen’s consumption, to maintain her energy during reproduction. Because very few bumblebee colonies establish permanently, they don’t need to store large quantities of honey. This makes it almost impossible to manage these bees for honey production.

Bees aren’t the only hymenopterans that make honey. Some species of paper wasps, particularly the Mexican honey wasps (Brachygastra spp.), also store excess nectar in their cardboard nests. Local indigenous communities value these wasps as a source of food, income and traditional medicine.

Mexican honey wasp.
Wikimedia Commons

Ants have similar lifestyles to their bee and wasp cousins and are common nectar foragers. Some species also make honey.

“Honeypot ant” is a common name for the many species of ant with workers that store honey in their abdomen. These individuals, called repletes, can swell their abdomens many times the normal size with the nectar they gorge. They act as food reservoirs for their colony, but are also harvested by humans, particularly by indigenous communities in arid regions.

Close-up of three large replete honeypot ants (Myrmecocystus mimicus) at Oakland Zoo.
via Wikimedia Commons

These ants don’t just collect nectar from flowers, but also sap leaks on plant stems (called extrafloral nectaries) and honeydew produced by hemipteran sap-suckers like aphids and scale insects.

Aphids and scale insects aren’t all bad – they produce a delicious sugary syrup called honeydew. We mostly know these insects as garden and crop pests: warty lumps huddled on plant stems, often coated in sticky honeydew and the black sooty mould that thrives on the sugar.

Males of these insect species are usually short-lived, but females can live for months, sucking plant sap and releasing sweet sticky honeydew as waste from their rears. The sugar composition varies greatly depending on both the plant and the sap-sucking species.

Honeydew has long been a valuable sugar source for indigenous cultures in many parts of the world where native honey-producing bees are scarce. Many other animals that seek out floral nectar, like bees, flies, butterflies, moths and ants, also feed on honeydew. It’s an especially valuable resource over winter or when floral resources are scarce, and not just for other insects; geckoes, honeyeaters, other small birds, possums and gliders are all known to feed on honeydew.

Honeydew on a leaf.
Dmitri Don/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

It’s also an indirect source of honey bee honey: plant sap that has been recycled through two different insect species! Honey bees are well-known honeydew collectors. In some parts of Europe, honeydew is an important forage resource for bee colonies.

Honeydew honeys have a unique flavour, depending on the host tree the scale insects were feeding on. Famous examples of this specialty honey are the German Black Forest honey and New Zealand’s Honeydew honey.




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So why not find out a bit more about what insects are producing honey in your local region?The Conversation

Manu Saunders, Research fellow, University of New England

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Lack of climate policy threatens to trip up Australian diplomacy this summit season



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Australia’s climate stance risks its standing on the world stage.
Shutterstock.com

Christian Downie, Australian National University

Australia has navigated a somewhat stormy passage through the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru. Scott Morrison’s new-look government faced renewed accusations at the summit about the strength of Australia’s resolve on climate policy.

Australia is neither a small nation nor one of the most powerful, but for many years it has been a trusted nation. Historically, Australia has been seen as a good international citizen, a country that stands by its international commitments and works with others to improve the international system, not undermine it.

But in recent years climate change has threatened this reputation. This is
especially so among our allies and neighbours in the Pacific region, who attended this week’s Nauru summit.




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With Australia’s new foreign minister, Marise Payne, attending instead of
the prime minister – not a good look, albeit understandable in the circumstances –
the government came under yet more international pressure to state plainly its commitment to the Paris climate agreement.

Pacific nations may be divided on many issues, but climate change is rarely one of them.

Before the meeting, Pacific leaders urged Australia to sign a pledge of support for the agreement and to declare climate change “the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing” of the region.

Australia ultimately signed the pledge, but also reportedly resisted a push for the summit’s communique to include stronger calls for the world to pursue the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious goal of limiting global warming to 1.5℃.




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The government now has a chance to catch its breath before international summit season begins in earnest in November with the East Asia Summit in Singapore, followed quickly by APEC in Papua New Guinea and then the G20 summit in Buenos Aires on November 30 and December 1, not to mention the next round of UN climate negotiations in Poland in December.

The G20 is arguably the most important summit, bringing together the leaders of the 20 most powerful nations in the world. It is a forum at which Australia’s
position on the climate issue has already suffered significant diplomatic damage under the Coalition government.

When Australia hosted the G20 Brisbane talks in 2014, the then prime minister, Tony Abbott, worked to keep climate change off the formal agenda. Stiff opposition from several of Australia’s allies forced him to back down.

Other nations will be wary of Australia’s stance at the G20 this time around,
especially following the leadership turmoil in Canberra.

Indeed, with climate policy continuing to divide the Coalition, there is a
significant risk that further missteps on climate change will undermine Australia’s international standing.

A better option

It doesn’t have to be this way. Australia could easily meet its Paris target of cutting emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030 with a national climate and energy strategy. But right now Australia is without one, and with Malcolm Turnbull’s passing as prime minister and the demise of the National Energy Guarantee, it looks unlikely to have a strategy in place by the time the G20 rolls around in November.

Australia’s overall greenhouse emissions have been rising for several years now, and many independent projections have Australia overshooting what is in reality a modest target.

But, rather than rectifying the situation, Morrison and his new cabinet have yet to make it completely clear whether Australia will stand by the Paris Agreement at all.

Even if the scenario of a US-style pullout is avoided, Morrison will face mounting pressure from the vocal band of conservatives in his party room not to commit to anything on climate change, be it symbolic or tangible.




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What the government chooses to do next could have reputational repercussions for years to come.

Australia may not have the might of other nations, but what it has had at times is a reputation as a constructive international partner. This needs to be restored if Australian diplomats are to successfully navigate a disruptive international landscape.

Climate policy is clearly a threat to our domestic politics and to the job security of Australian prime ministers. With further missteps it could upend our diplomacy as well. Summit season will go a long way towards determining how much of a threat it really is.The Conversation

Christian Downie, Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.