Native Bees Facts
THE nice thing about native bees is the fact they are very low maintenance, they don’t swarm, and they don’t STING!
Once you buy a native bee hive – you can ‘love them and leave them’ or you can harvest small quantities of honey and cerumen or often refered to as propolis.
Three years ago we identified a ‘real need’ to design a hive assembly that would reduce the mortality rate of Australian stingless native bees.
We thank our trial sites, scientists, engineers and general public who have volunteered their time and recourses to build the Hive Haven V9 stingless native bee hive. We have built a native bee box that’s easy to use whilst providing a holistic approach to the care and safety of bees.
Stingless native bees are amazing little creatures to watch and share your garden with. They boost our eco system, pollinate our flowers, vegie patch and fruit trees and even enable us to collect our own native honey. They were our first pollinators and shared this planet with the dinosaurs. They have evolved through Aboriginal dreamtime and in essence, they are the key to our survival.
There are approximately 1500 species of native bees here in Australia, the majority being solitary. They raise their young in holes in the ground or in cracks and hollows in trees and logs.
We do have, however, approximately 10 species of social bees which we refer to as Australian stingless native bees. These live in colonies with a queen and thousands of sterile female worker bees and some male drones.
Many would be forgiven for thinking that the only bee we have here in Australia is the common European or Western honey bee, whereas in fact they first landed on our shores in 1822 on the ship Isabella. Our ‘little black bees’ however were Australia’s very first pollinators, sharing this country with the dinosaurs.
The ‘little black bee’ is rapidly gaining in popularity, which is not surprising as they are amazing little creatures to watch and share your garden with – they boost our eco system, pollinate our flowers, vegie patch and fruit trees.
It well documented that native bees are rapidly gaining a reputation as the future face of both commercial and backyard pollination. Notably their honey and cerumen is recognised for its healing and medicinal properties.
Most popular varieties of stingless native bees
Austroplebeia autralis – These little bees are very timid and are often favoured for schools and public spaces. They have small white creamy marks at the base of their thorax and are the only species that cover the entrance to their hive each afternoon. They are not keen on the cold and will not work below 18oC and like to limit their activity to warmer days.
Tetragonula carbonaria – This little bee is a great all-rounder. A great pollinator and produces up to 1kg of native honey a year. They are relatively common and can be found nesting in water meters and wall cavities. They build a flat spiral brood in the centre of their hive which they support with cereum.
Tetragonula hockingsi – This species, the largest of all the stingless native bees, is gaining in popularity as they are thought to be more resistant to the heat. In saying this, they also are not keen on the cold. They will not be seen out and about in the cooler weather, whereas by comparison the T. carbonaria will be out foraging. This little bee may not thrive in cooler climates.
Where to place your Hive Haven V9 Stingless Native Bee Hive
A major problem affecting native bees in is heat stress this was evident during the January 2014 heat waves when significant numbers of Australian native bee colonies died. The Hive Haven V9 is specifically designed to maintain a stable temperature.
It is very important to adhere to the following instructions:
- The V9 hive entrance should be facing somewhere between north and east.
- The V9 hive needs to be out of direct sun by around 11.30am
- Place your hive in a sheltered position where it will be protected from the afternoon sun.
- Provide a clear flight path for your bees.
Stingless native bees don’t need much space and are very popular ‘pets’ for apartment dwellers and workplace offices. They make the perfect addition to a daycare centre, school community or retirement village.
What your Hive Haven stingless native bee colony depends on for survival.
(Adapted from the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation Program (Shepherd 2004)
- Stingless native bees will forage up to 500 metres from their hive but prefer a 150-metre range. This makes them ideal for either the backyard vegetable patch or the commercial operator.
- Stingless natives bees like a varied diet which can include both natives and ‘heirloom’ or open-pollinated varieties; avoid modern hybrids and ‘pollen free’ vegetation.
- Plant a variety of colours. Studies conducted have determined that honey bees have good colour vision to help them find flowers. They are particularly attracted to blue, purple, violet and yellow.
- Plant flowers in clusters as this will attract more bees than spacing them individually throughout the garden or vegetable patch. If you have the room it is best to plant in 1-metre clusters for the most impact.
- Planting a variety of flower shapes will benefit not only bees but also other pollinators, including butterflies and birds. Diversity is always good and plants that will flower all year round take a bit of planning but are certainly worthwhile.
- When out and about bees in general favour sunny spots over shade and need some shelter from strong winds.
- Provide accessible water. This is best done by filling a bowl with wet sand, pebbles or marbles. This allows the bees to drink safely without the risk of drowning.
- Avoid using pesticides because stingless native bees are very sensitive to them. If you do need to spray, do so in the late evening after ensuring your natives are inside the hive. Follow instructions to the letter and be vigilant not only about the bees but also about the many other beneficial insects that may be visiting your garden.
Australian stingless native honey is called sometimes called Sugarbag and is set to be the next Australian taste sensation!
Honey has been enjoyed as a food source and used in medicinal preparations since ancient times. For thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have collected stingless native honey as both a food and medicine source. It was presented to tribal elders by hunters as a sign of respect.
The cerumen from the hive is still used today to mould the mouthpiece of the Australian Digeridoo. Cerumen, better known as propolis or ‘bee glue’, is a brown, moist, resinous mixture made by stingless bees to build and seal their hive.
Both native bee honey and cerumen have very high anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and medicinal activity levels which are quite significant and could provide the key to future medical breakthroughs. The honey is stored in clusters of small resin pots near the extremities of the nest. Native honey tastes delicious drizzled over vanilla ice cream. You only need a very small amount to experience the sweet but tangy sensation!
Native honey is a rare product to be savoured because each hive only produces about 1 kg per year. The natural occurring moisture content is around 26.5% which means it is best refrigerated and, like European honey it keeps indefinitely.
A healthy native hive under good conditions and climate can produce up to 1 kg of extractable honey a year, which is a dramatic contrast to 40kg – 60kg from our European honey bee hives. This makes stingless native honey one of the rarest natural products in world.