Australian Stingless Native Bees
Trigona Australian Native Bees
Have you ever wanted to try your hand at beekeeping but were put off by the thought of getting stung by angry bees with barbed stingers.
Well maybe Australian native bees are worth considering. Our native bees have no stingers. They can still get cranky much the same as the European Honey Nee but the worst they can do is give you a little nip.
One of the most common varieties of native bees in Australia is called Trigona Carbonaria. These bees live in a social hive, much the same as honed bees do. They have one Queen, drones and many worker bees.
In the wild a new hive is created be the queen bee moving to a new location. Before she moves the worker bees establish the hive and store a quantity of honey there in preparation for her arrival. When the queen leaves the hive a new queen bee is born to take her place.
The Trigona bees build a hive with a spiraling design. The queen lays her eggs in the centre of the hive which is called the brood chamber. The brood chamber is surrounded by the honey storage cells. As the bees usually have their nest in the hollow of a tree the honey is stored above and below the brood chamber. The honey cells are quite large at around 13 mm in diameter.
Native Bee Spiral Brood Comb and Honey Comb
Small and Love Sap
The social Australian native bee is only small. It is black in colour and only about 4mm long. They are very good fliers and are very good at sensing (smelling/seeing) food sources. They are able to climb inside smaller flowers than the European Honey bee and are very well suited to the Australian native flowers. Some species of Eucalypts have small cup like nuts around their flowers. The native bee can crawl inside the cup and carry seed on its legs. The seed is then transported back to the hive where it drops it outside the hive entrance.
Native bees also like to collect sap from some trees. Pine trees is one of their favorite. If you cut a piece of bark from a pine tree the bees can be there in a few minutes to collect the sap. They use the sap in the production of cerumen to make their nest. When there is a good source of sap around the bees can forget about collecting nectar and get quite obsessed with sap collection.
Native Bees Collecting Sap
Bad Honey Bee!
The honey bee can fly for a few kilometers to find flowers. The native bee likes to look for food a lot closer. A couple of hundred meters is about their limit.
Hives are found in bush land and forests throughout Queensland and New South Wales in Australia. They are more prevalent close to the coast and do not like a cold climate. In winter they will not leave the hive until the temperature reaches about 18 degrees. This can put them at a disadvantage if there are feral honey bees around. The honey bee starts a lot earlier then the native bees and can already have collected the majority of nectar from the flowers.
Pet Australian Stingless Bees in Back Yard
More Fruit - Less Buzz
Native bees are better pollinators of some plants then the honey bee. Macadamia nut farmers need to use native bees to pollinate their crops as honey bees cannot do the job. Farmers of Strawberries, Rockmelon, Mango, Blueberries, Citrus, Lychee, Avocado and Watermelon also have higher yields when they pollinate with native bees. Not all flowers can be pollinated with native bees. Some require a bussing bee to vibrate the pollen for fertilization. Australia has a few native buzzing bees such as the Carpenter Bee. These bees do not live in a colony, instead they are live by themselves. In the garden native bees are great pollinators of cucumber too.
Australian Native Bees
Would you like to keep Australian Native Bees as Pets?
In Australia native bees are mostly kept commercially for pollinating flowers. As forests have been cleared and logged the old hollow trees they use for their nests have been disappearing. So there is a shortage of bees in many areas. Competition from honey bees also has diminished their population.
Native bees are also kept for their honey production. Their honey is called “Sugar Bag” by the Australian Aborigines. It is highly prized bush tucker especially with the children. Native bees produce very little honey per hive. An average hive will produce between 500g to 1kg per year.
The Australian Aborigines also used the wax or cerumen from the hive for making tools. Didgeridoo players still use the cerumen around the mouthpiece of their instruments.
Splitting an Australian Native Bee Hive
Keep them in a Box
Native bees can be kept in a hive box. The boxes are made in 2 or 3 sections and are left hollow. The bees are built their hive inside with the brood chamber in the centre. Because the brood chamber is always central and contains Queen eggs the hive can be split in 2 with half the brood chamber in each box. The bees with no queen will hatch a new queen and rebuild the hive. The hive is usually made with a smaller section at the top. This is where the bees will store some of their honey. It can be collected from this top chamber while leaving plenty of honey stored for the bees in other parts of the hive. It is important not to take too much honey as the hive needs to be kept strong for winter months.
Native Bee Box Design
Making an Australian Native Bee Box
Native bees do not need brood and honey wax in their hive. They make all their own nest. They just need a basic box in which to build.
The box is made in 2 main parts. The reason it is made in 2 parts is so it can easily be split if required. A Honey Super can be added to the top of the hive. The honey super needs a separation board from the rest of the hive to stop the bees from building brood nest in the honey super.
A standard hive design is 280m long and 200mm wide. The 2 bottom halves are each 100mm tall and the top honey super is 50mm tall.
The hive is best made from termite resistant timber such as hoop pine. The pine should be at least 20mm thick. Thicker timber gives better insulation. (I have been cheating on these dimensions a bit and using 12mm marine ply to make some hives. Where I live the temperature is well suited to native bees and I have had no issues with ply boxes.)
The entrance hole should be about 13mm in diameter and placed in the bottom part of the hive.
Having an insert in the top half of the box can be an advantage when splitting a box as it helps keep the nest from falling down into the bottom box before the bees have a chance to secure it. The bees will glue everything up in a short time so the insert is just temporary.
In my pictures below of a plywood box I have also added a small rebate for lining up the hive. You do not need a rebate and I only do this because the box has thin walls.
My Bee Boxes
New Hi Tech Honey Pot Hive for Native Bees
The native bee industry has evolved during the last few years. A new design of hive based on a South American design called the "Honey Pot Hive" is fast becoming a new standard for native bee keepers around Australia. The Honey Pot Hive is still said to be in development but it is available for testing and use by anyone with native bees.
The Honey Pot Hive uses a foam box that has more then five times the insulation then a wooden box. This gives the bees a cozier home in winter and a cooler house in the middle of summer.
The Honey Pot Hive consists of a bottom entry box, a large brood chamber box and honey supers for easily harvesting native bee honey.
The Brood box has supports to help support the brood and stop sagging due to melting wax on the hottest summer days.
The biggest invention that the Honey Pot Hive claims is the Honey Pots. They are removable honey supers that the Native Bees can use to fill with honey. The honey supers are easily removable and just need a small prick with a squire to release the honey.
The Honey Pot Hive has been said to be ingenious and "No one else has developed structures in this area" Bob the Bee Man.
More on the Honey Pot Hive can be found at http://australianstinglessbees.com.au/