Australian Stingless Bees

Australia's Native Honeybees

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Abstract

Australia has about ten species of small black stingless bees — our native honey bees.

Australia has about ten species of native stingless bees in the genera Trigona and Austroplebeia.[1]
They are tropical species found in warm areas of Australia such as
Queensland, the Northern Territory, the Kimberley region of Western
Australia, and northern and eastern parts of New South Wales.

Above: A beautiful photograph of the tiny Australian stingless bees (Trigona) kindly contributed by Peter O.

These are our only social native bee species. They have a queen, drones
and hundreds of sterile worker bees in each nest. Australia’s other
native bee species are solitary or semi-social.[2]

Australian stingless bees are 4mm long, black bees, that generally live
in hollows inside trees. However, in northern Australia, nests are
commonly found in cavities inside walls and other man-made structures.
The 12 mm long commercial honeybee, Apis mellifera, commonly
seen in Australian gardens, is not a native bee. It is an introduced
species from Europe that often builds feral nests in tree cavities.

Stingless Bee Honey

Australian stingless bees produce a tangy honey which they store in
small resinous pots that look like bunches of grapes.[3][4] Less than one
kilogram of honey is produced in each nest per year, so they produce
far less honey than European honeybees do.

For more information about stingless bee honey or to order supplies, visit Dr Tim Heard’s Sugarbag website.

Australian stingless bees are also showing great potential as crop
pollinators.[5] They prefer to fly short distances when foraging, so they
tend to stay within the crop area and cope better with greenhouse
conditions than commercial honeybees do.


How to Rescue a Stingless Bee Nest

Huge numbers of stingless bee nests are destroyed each year when trees
are cleared for land development. A nest can be rescued by cutting out
the section of log containing the colony and relocating it to a garden
or another safe area.

The ends of the log and any cracks in the timber
should be securely sealed to keep out ants. Lightly cover the entrance
hole with gauze and tape during transport. For more details see Aussie Bee‘s guide to rescuing stingless bee nests.

Australian Stingless Bees in Hive Boxes

Techniques for keeping Australian stingless bees in hive boxes[6][7] have been under development for over 40 years. The most common hive box in current use is the OATH design.[8] This is a small wooden hive 200 mm x 280 mm x 200 mm, divided into two halves to allow propagation by splitting.

Hives can be readily propagated in warm areas such as Queensland. Visit the Aussie Bee website for a list of sellers of stingless bee hives.

For further information about keeping stingless bees visit Russell Zabel’s Australian stingless bee website.

References

  • Dollin A (2010). How to recognise the different types of Australian stingless bees. Edition 2. Australian Native Bee Research Centre.
    Reference Link
  • Australian Native Bees - a Knol
    Reference Link
  • Dollin A (2010). Behaviour of Australian stingless bees. Edition 2. Australian Native Bee Research Centre.
    Reference Link
  • Dollin A (2010). Nests of Australian stingless bees. Edition 2. Australian Native Bee Research Centre.
    Reference Link
  • Heard T and Dollin A (1998). Crop pollination with Australian stingless bees. Australian Native Bee Research Centre.
    Reference Link
  • Dollin A, Zabel R and Zabel J (2001). Boxing and splitting hives. Australian Native Bee Research Centre.
    Reference Link
  • Klumpp J (2007). Australian stingless bees: A guide to sugarbag beekeeping. Earthling Enterprises.
    Reference Link
  • Dollin A and Heard T (1999). Tips on stingless beekeeping by Australian beekeepers. Volume 1. Australian Native Bee Research Centre.
    Reference Link