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Wild Bees Of French Polynesia

We headed out early into the foothills of Mts Pahia and Otemanu to an isolated area the Americans used for ammunition storage & particularly for water collection during WWII.

During those years there were a series of sources that flowed in the area passing legendary sites such as Marae Vaiotaha, the Queen’s Bath & Ofa’i Honu. At that time these sources flowed throughout the year and many were inhabited by succulent prawns and large eels.

The Americans installed large steel water tanks to store water. To my knowledge the one appearing in the background of the photo below is the only one which remains – landowners gave permission to the churches to dismantle the others & sell the steel for scrap metal so as to have funds to construct churches & meeting places.


The source Vaiati is the only source that now never runs dry & the American system of tapping the water from the source remains intact & functioning as it has since the war.

This is how water should taste! It’s a beautiful setting surrounded by Mape (walnut trees).


We were not, however, there for the water; we had come in search of wild bees.


Proof of humans collecting honey stems back around 15,000 years. Jars of honey were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

There are up to 20,000 species of wild bees and up to 100,000 can live in a single colony.

Though it’s usually 30,000 to 50,000 of which all but about 1,000 are female worker bees — the ones that sting you! The queen bee can live for up to 3 years & produce up to half a million eggs laying around her body weight each day!

She mates in a nuptial flight with a number of males so as to store enough sperm to be able to fertilize all the eggs she lays, determining the sex of each egg as she lays it.

In the last month, bushfires had raced through parts of the area we were visiting, distressing some of the bees whose hives still hid in smoldering trunks. Some trees had been felled to stop the fire from climbing further up the interior of the trees to where the bees still fought to save their hives.

In this moment in history where bee populations are under attack worldwide, we looked to assist the bees & improve their living conditions.


We fabricated unsophisticated mobile hives for the exercise and will build more complex hives for the projects development. Gilles, pictured here has been involved with apiculture for over 40 years, the last 22 years intensively.


The bees from the first hive must have known we were there to assist as they were incredibly passive. Notwithstanding those in attendance remained at a safe distance.


There were thousands of dead bees and one could see the damage caused by the fires as the honey-comb was moved from the wild bee hive to be temporarily stored in the mobile hive:


Honey-comb is fixed into the removable honey-comb holders ready to fill the mobile hive.


In the below photo, one can see (yellow colored) pollen stored in the top right & large quantities of eggs that will produce worker bees.


Once the mobile hive is filled with its removable honey-comb holders, the bees are encouraged to enter the mobile home by the subtle use of smoke.


One can tell the move is a success & that the queen bee is inside by the volume of bees around the openings.


The bees in the first hive may well have been passive but it would not be the case with the second hive where those not appropriately clothed were chased up to 200m at a time by bees stinging us consistently on any part of the body they could reach.

When a bee stings you they leave an odor that other bees can follow from a distance and continue the assault!  We encircled the fallen hive with fires but the attacks continued and nothing would stop them.


This was a very healthy hive:


The following photo shows the difference between honeycomb used for the eggs of male bees and those used for female worker bees. As the male bees are bigger than the workers they need bigger holes – as in the honey-comb at the top – into which the eggs that will produce males are laid:


Eager to learn:


Exhausted teacher but satisfied students.


This outing forms part of a project recently undertaken by the Mayor to push Bora Bora to greater fruit & vegetable independence through the development of a substantial 100% natural farm.

The aim is to meet the needs of schools first and then the population. Students will be trained in natural farming techniques and be able thereafter to add to the island’s production via their own farms.

It fits well with the Mayor’s overall approach to the environment which has seen the introduction of water treatment plants and the island receiving the prestigious Pavillon Bleu” award for the quality of its swimming waters.

Overnight the queen bee in the second mobile hive moved outside and into a nearby tree with around 2/3 of the worker bees. They could be clearly seen lumped together & hanging from a branch. 

By the time we reached the spot, she had fled in search of another place to call home accompanied by around 2/3 of the bees. A number of worker bees who’d departed early in search of pollen and had returned confused to find no one home!

You had to laugh at watching one amongst us climb the tree to check the situation more closely only on this occasion to be hammered by wasps!

We will return in a week to secure the mobile hives, block the entry and exit zones and transport them back to the farm. On using eggs from one or other hive, we will be able to induce the production of queen bees as required to increase the size of the operation.

We would find that we were not alone that day. The gendarme arrived looking for paka (marijuana) in the mountains nearby earlier located by helicopter.


Tahiti is taking the worldwide threat to bee populations most seriously. The aim is to install specially selected bee colonies on isolated islands where there are few if any bees.

This is where the environment is as close as possible to it being in its natural state, and the bees can live without human interference and without the threats of pesticides.

Marlon Brando’s Tetioroa will be the first but Maiao (near Moorea), Maupiti & Tupai (near Bora Bora) are all under consideration. It’s a brilliant project to be developing.

Bees are still used today in Tahitian traditional medicine. I recall regularly taking my mother-in-law for bee stings, up to nearly 100 at a time.