Annika Arnout is a 4-year-old junior naturalist and budding entomologist-in-the-making. She has made a rare discovery that many professional entomologists would be delighted to claim. She discovered two small thriving populations of stingless bees in Palo Alto, California.
The unique bees she discovered appear to have originated in Brazil, probably as part of a research project decades ago. The project was aimed at reviving the depleted US bee population, according to Dr. Martin Hauser, a senior insect biosystematist in California.
Hauser told CBS in a recent interview, that in 1950 the USDA asked a Brazilian researcher to send bee colonies so they would have alternative pollinators. Brazil is home to several unnamed species of stingless bees, similar to pollinating bee species such as honeybees.
The Brazilian researcher sent batches of stingless bees to Gainesville, Florida, and Logan, Utah, as well as Davis and Palo Alto, California in the 1950s. Later, he said all the bees died in a year. They didn’t survive the cold weather in Utah and were challenged to compete with the hardy bees in Florida, said Hauser.
The bees sent to George Shafer, a Stanford professor, survived for eight years but then disappeared, according to Hauser. Until recently, that is.
This 5:51-minute video by CBS This Morning is about Annika and her stingless bees discovery.
Referring to Arnout, Hauser says that the recent discovery of these long-lost bees reminds us that we can see and have a new perspective with the eyes of a child.
Annika’s discovery was partly thanks to her caretaker, Targe Lindsey, who is a biologist. They have been co-explorers of the natural world around the San Francisco Bay Area ever since Annika was 3 months old. The bees were found in her ‘special place’ which she wishes to protect, so she will not share the location on the record.
Dr. Hauser had never heard of stingless bees until about 20 years ago. A pest control guy named Richard Schmidt operated in the Palo Alto area at the time. He had discovered a unique bee colony in a client’s backyard and sent samples to the county agricultural department, where Hauser was working.
Stingless bees were unheard of, so Hauser thought the specimen was a prank but sent them on to other experts. Few answers were forthcoming. Ultimately research led to an unnamed scarce species described by a German bee researcher in the year 1900.
Schmidt’s client issue was resolved when the colony’s tree fell over. They believed the bees had died.
Annika and Lindsey shared images of the bees on iNaturalist, where they caught the attention of professionals and enthusiasts.
Hauser was impressed that she found two colonies, while scientists have found none. He recently presented Arnout with her own insect compendium. The so-called “Annika’s bees” were not listed. Hauser inscribed the book: “To Annika, for many more discoveries to come.”
This is such an inspiring story for us all. There are always new discoveries to be made, new adventures to be had. Keep an open mind and see things with new eyes. The impossible can become possible.