Why keep native stingless bees?

Tim Heard

stingless beeI promote the keeping of native stingless bees by everyone. Anyone who lives in a suitable climate can do it. A suitable climate consists of most of NSW north of Sydney, all of Qld, NT and WA north of about Port Hedland.

 Bees evolved from wasps when they changed the food source for their larvae from insect prey to pollen. The evolved with the flowering plants which resulted in the natural world that we see today. Bees remain the premier pollinators of flowering plants, both in natural systems and on farms. Some bees became highly social living in societies with one queen and many workers. The honey bees and the stingless bees are the most highly social bees. The bumble bees are less socially advanced. Most bees, such as our locally common blue banded bee are solitary, although they have started down the path of sociality by nesting in aggregations.

The behaviour of stingless bees is similar to honey bees in many ways but strikingly different in other ways. The nests are very different to honey bees. They are very well defended as they cannot rely on a sting to protect themselves. We have around 2,000 species of bees in Australia, but only about 10 species of social stingless bees. Each species is adapted to a northern part of the continent.

DSC 4352-copyThe keeping of stingless bees has become very popular with many people contributing valuable ideas to its development over the last 25 years. We now have hive designs and management techniques which allow the rapid propagation of hives. The numbers of beekeepers and hives is increasing exponentially. Honey extraction methods are also well developed, although the hives deliver very little honey compared to honey bees. The great potential of these insects lies in crop production and as pets. The time is ripe for the rapid expansion of this wonderfully interesting activity.

There is heavy reliance on honey bees for the pollination of our crops. It is wise to diversify. Honey bees are under increasing pressure from a number of fronts, particularly new pests and diseases. Stingless bees offer an alternative for some crops in northern Australia and other tropical parts of the world. They are not susceptible to the pests and diseases of honey bees (although they have a few pests of their own). Stingless bees have some other advantages for crop pollination too. But we are currently hampered by the lack of availability of colonies. Here is where you can come in. By keeping and propagating hives of bees you are increasing the pool of potential hives available to our country cousins. You are guaranteed to have a lot of interesting fun in the process.

I cover the above issues and more in the workshops I give at CREEC and other venues. I hope to see you at one soon.

Tim's website