Batty about bees

Gopal Paliwal had always been intrigued by the complex physiology of wild or rock honeybees. Today, this 28-year old entomologist boasts of a doctorate (from Wardha University) on the neuroendocrine and reproductive sys- tems of the rockbee (Apis dorsata). Unlured by offers from pharmaceutical companies and research laboratories, Paliwal chose to work with people on a project sponsored by the department of science and technology in Mendha. He spoke:bout his work to Down To Earth.

Why did you choose to work in a forest with adivasis?
Because I wanted to bring this study outside the ivory towers of laboratories to the people. Pure academic works take a long time to get transferred to society.

What have you learned in the jungle laboratory of Mendha?
Two main things: the ferocity and migrational cycles of the rockbees.

What do you think are the practical benefits of your findings?
Well, it is important to understand their ferocity and migration for collecting more honey. Earlier, people avoided collecting honey during monsoons because they were scared of getting attacked by the bees, and it was difficult to light fires in the pouring rains.

What is the new technique you have developed to collect honey from the combs of wild honeybees?
This technique enables the honey hunters to collect honey without destroying honey combs. Each comb has an upper honey chamber and a lower brood chamber. I have developed a simple instrument having a long clip and two hinges. The clip is attached to the honey chamber and hinges are fixed to the brood chamber.

At night when the bees are somewhat blind, a trained honey hunter climbes; the tree and sits on the branch housing the comb. After removing bees from the honey chamber he, with the help of a sharp knife cuts about one-third of the honey chamber and puts it in a bucket. The hinges attached to the brood chamber prevent it from falling to the ground. The next morning, bees start rebuilding the honey chamber.

What are other benefits of this technique?
It has Increased honey production as much as six times from one comb, the input cost remaining practically nil.

How do you propose to extend these findings to the people - the wild honey hunters?
The wild honey hunters, mainly adivasis, are the real people involved in this study. Steps are being taken to organise a cooperative of these honey hunters and we are getting the Agmark for their product, It will make the marketing of honey easier and will eliminate a middleman.

How confident are you about your dream?
I am starting from the scratch. All my work is basic and is being done for the first time in the country. It is based on a trial and error method. But I will see to it that the maximum benefit goes to the honey hunters. I am quite sure that it will be replicable elsewhere.

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