Stingless Bee FAQ

Introduction to stingless bees

Stingless bees are highly social insects, with one queen and thousands of workers who live together in a protected place, which, in nature, is usually in a hollow tree. Stingless bees inhabit the northern parts of Australia, although on the east coast they reach a bit further south than Sydney. They also occur in other tropical parts of the world. The Australian species are much smaller than European honey bees. They are generally black in colour. As their name suggests, they do not have a sting although they can give you a little bite with their jaws. Although there are hundreds of species of Australian native bees, the stingless bees are the only ones that make and store quantities of honey.

  • Where can you keep stingless bees in Australia? + -

    Unfortunately, not all of the Australian continent is suitable for keeping stingless bees. These bees occur naturally in Australia’s warmer and wetter parts, and we recommend that species only be kept in their natural range. It is illegal to import stingless bee colonies into Western Australia, but you can establish hives using locally native stingless bee species (northern WA only). Here at Sugarbag Bees we supply hives along the eastern coastline between Mackay, QLD and Nowra, NSW.

    As you move inland from the coast and the moderating influence of the ocean, the climate becomes less favourable for keeping native stingless bees. This is especially true where you gain altitude. So Canberra and Katoomba are definitely not suitable. But an area like Picton, about 25 km from the coast and 200m ASL seems to be OK. Areas where you can grow bananas perennially and they bear fruit, may also be suitable to keep carbonaria. If you get heavy frosts, it may not be suitable. If just an occasional frost, then could be OK. Remember, they are really a subtropical species. In cooler areas hives need to be carefully sited and managed to survive. In these areas, hives may not ever grow to a point where they can be duplicated or have honey extracted. If you had questions about the suitability of your climate please email us.


    The natural distribution of stingless bees in Australia. (Artwork: Anne Dollin)

  • How do I build my own hive? + -

    For a set of plans for building your own hive, go to the Resources page.

    Please note you cannot buy bees separately to the box! See the next FAQ

  • Can I buy bees without the box? + -

    Sorry but we don’t sell bees without the hive box. Native stingless bees need their nest material and their nest mates, and so they come already established in hives. You do not buy hives and bees separately. The boxes used by Sugarbag Bees are professionally made, identical and provide excellent homes for the bees so we do not transfer out of our boxes and into others (it is quite destructive and we don't like doing it!). We sell a strong nucleus of bees inside the hive box which is stocked with pollen, honey, and other internal structures, see the product page.

    Unfortunately it is not likely that an empty box placed out in your yard will be colonised. Empty boxes are for duplicating or transferring already established colonies - you cannot lure them into the box from the greater environment.

    If you know of a colony that needs rescuing (perhaps from a broken tree branch, or a water meter) you can use an empty box to transfer the colony into. Otherwise you can buy your first stocked hive, and use your own empty boxes to divide/educt with in the future.

  • Can I have my hive sent in the mail? + -

    Believe it or not, we can ship your stocked hive to you!

    While we would rather they be collected, we do have good experience in sending live bee hives in the mail. The bees are closed inside the hive with breathable closure to allow air flow during transit. The hive is then placed inside a cardboard box, along with any other items you have purchased, and packaged snugly. Fragile tape and delivery instructions let the couriers know the cargo is precious. Transit time is generally 2-3 days. Bees should be released immediately after receiving them.

    Our preferred courier to send hives is Aramex as they pick up, sort and deliver packages by hand. We cannot send hives to PO boxes.

    We only send early in the week, keep an eye on any alerts of delays (wet weather, staff shortages etc), avoid weeks with public holidays and definitely steer clear of Christmas post chaos. We want your bees to arrive swiftly and safely so appreciate your patience in working out the best time to send.

  • What is the best position to keep my hive? + -

    You should choose the best position for your hive before releasing your bees for the first time. Consider this carefully; you don’t want to have to move your hive more often than necessary (as you can only do so in 1m daily intervals), so it is best to get the location right first time. POSITIONING IS KEY TO KEEPING A HEALTHY HIVE. Bees are not warm-blooded so need help staying warm enough in winter and cool enough in summer. This is one thing you (the beekeeper) can actively manage to support your colony throughout the year and changes in season.

    Honey bees are said to benefit from facing into the north-east quadrant, but this is not important for stingless bees. However, you do need to choose a suitable microclimate. Think about whether you would be comfortable sitting in your chosen position 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Yes? Then the bees will probably be comfortable too. Remember that stingless bees do not need water, so there is no need to position the hive close to a water source.

    Wherever you pick should be dry and raised to protect the box (and bees) from the elements and help the bees take flight. Also remember that you will enjoy observing them coming and going, so position the entrance so that you can see it easily.
    Winter: A position that receives good direct sun throughout most of the day in winter is optimal (and essential for hives in NSW or more marginal locations). If a bee is cold then it moves much more slowly, which can impact their ability to defend properly, maintain their population and leave the hive in search of food.
    Summer: Hives must not receive any sun after 10am in summer (this voids our guarantee). Afternoon sun can cook a hive, so avoid exposed western positions.- full shade during the hottest months should be considered.

    Just remember this positioning mantra: HIVES SHOULD RECEIVE SUN IN WINTER BUT BE WELL SHADED IN SUMMER. You can move a hive up to 1m per day in any direction to adjust the position as the seasons change. This is imperative for hives kept in NSW and marginal areas (more sun in winter in particular). Remember that they are really a subtropical species and are not warm-blooded, so you may need to make small adjustments to the position throughout the year. Judge this by the activity at your hive and the temperature in your area - could they benefit from more sun in winter, or more shade in summer? Use your judgement and alter accordingly. Some options:
    1. At the edge of a covered patio/verandah for summer, then move at 1m daily increments out to the sun for winter. Move back in spring.
    2. Under a deciduous tree
    3. Under dense shrubbery/trees that are allowed to grow in summer, then cut right back for winter.

    If you place your bees on a verandah or patio, be aware that they may drop garbage pellets close to the hive entrance and fly in clouds around the hive at certain times (so best to avoid high traffic areas).

    You should not place hives close together if they are not split from the same colony (see FAQ below).

  • How many hives can I have on my property? + -

    You can keep hives of stingless bees at moderately high densities particularly in suburban areas. Home gardens are particularly rich sources of food for bees because so many ornamental plants flower heavily and so offer abundant food for bees. Most suburban blocks will have spaces for at least four hives, maybe many more. Only when densities get very high, say around 50 hives on a hectare, will competition start to become limiting to colony growth. In areas which are poor for bees, then problems of starvation could arise at lower hive densities. Landscapes that are poor for bees include areas dominated by grass, monocultures of trees over large areas, pine plantations, etc.

    Another issue with high hive densities is that of fighting swarms which may become a greater problem when hives are closer, as bees of different colonies do not share space well. Keep hives that aren't split from the same colony at least a few metres apart from each other (minimum 3-5m), varying the height of the hive and orientation of the entry holes to help the bees differentiate which hive is theirs. Different landmarks separating hives is also helpful like a potted plant, tree cover, patio etc so the bees will learn exactly where their hive is in relation to the space around them.

  • How do I mount my hive? + -

    The metal roof provided with your hive protects the hive from sun and rain. Attach the roof by flexing it open and releasing it onto the top of the hive so that it clamps on. Keep the roof on, and the boxes strapped together.

    You need to protect the hive from threats from below, particularly termites and rot-inducing dampness. Raise the hive up a bit from the ground. This elevation will also help the bees to launch themselves into flight. For ideas for a solid and permanent way to mount a hive, see our Products page, but you do not need anything fancy - a few blocks and a paver, an upturned pot plant, an old bar stool, etc.

    Note you may need to move your hive in small increments to adjust with the change in season (imperative for NSW customers and those in marginal areas), so consider this when installing.

    Consider security in public places.

  • Are stingless bees completely safe? + -

    Stingless bees are entirely harmless. They have been used for years as an educational resource in kindergartens and schools. They do not have a sting, do not produce any venom, and are incapable of causing any serious allergies. They are commonly kept on verandahs in Australia in areas of high pedestrian traffic, without a single recorded problem to my knowledge. We have personally installed hives at many kindergartens in Brisbane and several schools in Qld and NSW. All are very happy with them and report that they provide a great educational resource for the children.

  • Can I move my hive, and where? + -

    If you do need to move the hive, do so at night when the field bees are home. If you move it an intermediate distance, the bees may leave the hive the next day and some may forget the new location and return to the old location and never re-unite with their hive. So, move in small increments of no more than 1m per day in any direction. Only do this on days when the bees are actively leaving the hive so they have a chance to learn their new location before moving again. An alternative is to close your hive at night and move the hive a distance of at least 1 km away to an intermediary position, and leave it there foraging for at least 3 weeks. After this it can be closed again and moved back to a new permanent position.

    If the new position is more than 1km away from where they currenly are, simply close at night as above, and move to the new spot. Mind the hive is kept cool and upright while closed.

    So - either less than 1m per day, or greater than 1km!

    If you are moving multiple hives onto the same property, keep them at least a few metres apart from each other (minimum 3-5m), varying the height of the hive and orientation of the entry holes to help the bees differentiate which hive is theirs.

  • How can I transport my hive safely? + -

    To transport a living hive, please observe the following:

    • Pack the hive at night when the bees are all inside.
    • Close all entrances to stop the bees leaving the hive. Use something that can breathe such as a piece of material, gauze or fly screen. Push the piece of material into the entrance loosely but securely; do not pack it in. There may be more than one entrance so make sure that are all plugged, including the ventilation hole in the rear.
    • KEEP THE HIVE COOL. Once the bees are shut inside the hive you can move it at any time of day but be mindful of keeping it as cool as possible. Turn down the AC in the car. Do not leave the hive in the car if you have to leave it in the sun. Take it with you and leave in a shady cool place.
    • Treat the hive like you would a pet.
    • It should be safe for a hive to travel for up to 5 days if it is carefully treated, but the less time closed the better!

    Do not tape over or plug the hive with blu tac - you must use something breathable to close your hive.

  • Do I need to register my hive of stingless bees? + -

    There is no legal requirement to register hives of native bees in Australia. Although there is no legal protection of native bees (except of course in National parks and all other protected areas), I strongly discourage you from removing hives from the wild. Chopping down a tree to take the bees is even worse resulting in a loss of both tree and bees from their natural environment. However I encourage the rescue of colonies from trees that have been felled as part of legal land clearing or tree removal on private land. At least then the bees are saved.

  • Can I keep the colony in their log? + -

    Yes, in fact, if the bees are living securely in a solid log, then I recommend that they be left there. The log provides a great home for the bees and an attractive feature for a garden.

    But you need to protect their home. Keep it above the ground so termites are deterred from entering. Keep it dry to slow down the rotting process. Cover the open ends of the log to help the bees defend and insulate their nest.

    As noted above, you can only move a colony either 1m from where they usually live or more than 1km - be sure to mind these distance principles if you are moving a log to your property from somewhere else. You can lie the log horizontally or stand it vertically in its new location. You can also change its orientation from horizontal to vertical if necessary for transport or mounting, but be careful and do not do it often as it disrupts the rearing of the brood. Ants may cohabit with bees in the log. It may appear that they are living in the same space as the bees, but bees normally seal off their space so that ants cannot enter. So do not worry too much about ants; they may even help by deterring termites, which will eventually destroy the log.

    If the log is in poor condition then it is possible to transfer the bees out of the log and into a hive box. We would only recommend doing this when absolutely necessary and if simple hand tools will suffice. If you need a chainsaw, then the bees are likely better off left inside the log.

  • When can I divide my hive or extract honey? + -

    Use the weight of your hive as your guide for readiness to divide. The box itself weighs 4.5 kg (if bought from Sugarbag Bees)*. You can divide the hive when it reaches 3 kg of contents (which is mainly made up of stored honey and pollen, wax and resin building material and the immature and adult bees). So the total weight when it is ready to divide will be 7.5 kg. If the hive weighs 9kg or over, it will be close to completely full and you should be able to extract honey too. The time it takes for a hive to reach this weight varies and is influenced by your location, the microclimate at the hive, the weather, what forage is available, etc. Generally this is around 12 months from last duplication but check the weight to be sure as time is not always a true indicator of progress - weight will fluctuate during the year depending on the season, rainfall, and what forage is available.

    We do not recommend that you remove honey at the same time as dividing. This places excessive stress on the hive. Instead wait at least a week and then collect the honey. Or you can extract honey and divide the hive at least one week later. If the original hive was full you should be able to extract honey from the original honey box (the top box). The hive resulting from the division that has the full bottom box will not fill its honey box with honey for some time, about one year under favourable conditions.

    Forager activity should also be strong. In general, for T. carbonaria and T. hockingsi, you should be able to observe between 30 and 60 bees returning to the hive per minute when environmental conditions are favourable.

    Consider your location and the time of year - in Brisbane it can be possible to split nearly year-round as the average daily temperature through autumn is still quite pleasant. Avoid any beekeeping in cold/wet weeks and in the middle of winter when the overnight temperatures are low. NSW is a different story and heavy hives should only be split during the warmer months. You do not ever need to a split a hive so if you are unsure, best to leave them be.

    *If your hive is anything other than a 3-part 25mm hoop pine honey OATH box, please contact us for confirmation of the empty box weight

    Note - it has not been great conditions for bee growth the last few years! A cold 2022 winter, 3 La Nina seasons and a wet 2023 summer means less time for bees out foraging and more time inside the hive consuming their stores without a solid period of recovery. It is likely hives will grow more slowly as a result.

  • Do I need to divide my hive? + -

    You do not need to split your hive, or extract the honey. If it lives in a suitable habitat, it will put on weight and eventually fill the box. At this stage it may attempt to reproduce naturally by establishing a daughter colony in a new location. The mother colony will always remain in the original location. You will NOT see a swarm of bees leaving a hive as you do for honey bees. You may see some bees leaving the colony with materials on their pollen baskets. Otherwise the colony will appear normal. The only consequence of not dividing your hive is that you lose an opportunity to create a new colony.

    We do recommend you keep at least two colonies, whether that be via duplication or purchasing multiple hives, as a sort of insurance policy should anything happen to the first (pests, requeening issues, heatwaves and cold snaps can cause the demise of even well-established hives - nature happens!)

    There are some risks in duplicating colonies, whether by splitting or eduction, but these can be minimised by only dividing when your hive is heavy and productive, in good weather, and using good materials.

  • Can I divide my hive myself? + -

    With an understanding of some basic biology of stingless bees and a little practical knowhow, you can split your own bee hive at home quite simply. To find out all you need to know to perform a split, you can read the Splitting Stingless Bee Hives chapter in the Native Bee Book, or view our YouTube video series on splitting.

    If you decide splitting is not for you, or if you don't feel confident enough to split your hive by yourself, we offer a split service where we come to you and split your hive for a fee.

  • After I divide my hive, how far should I separate the two? + -

    After dividing a hive, one daughter hive should remain in the original position, but you need to find a new home for the new daughter hive. You can move one of the daughter hives far away (more than 1 km which is beyond the flight range of the bees) or you can leave it nearby (usually on the same property). Let’s treat these two cases:

    If you move a daughter hive far away, the foraging bees from that hive will have to learn the new position. If the daughter hive is the original full top and a new empty bottom, then they also have to learn a new entrance which looks unfamiliar and does not continue into the familiar entrance tube that the bees build to defend their entrance. One strategy is to leave the original full top and a new empty bottom at the original location and move the original full bottom and the empty new top to the new location. The bees from the former half of the division then get an unfamiliar entrance but this is balanced by retaining the original position. Anyone who has moved a hive while bees are foraging will know just how loyal the returning foragers are to the original position. They will land and cluster very close to this position even though the hive itself is not there. The other half of the division, the original full bottom and the empty new top are taken to the new location. These bees have to learn the new location but they have the advantage of retaining the original entrance with all its familiarity. Another advantage of this strategy is that the half that you move is more stable for transport as the contents are in the bottom box. If you move the half with the contents in the top half, there may be a risk of slumping, which is very dangerous.

    Often people wish to keep a daughter hive on the same property. There is no problem doing this. But how far away does it need to be moved? There are a variety of opinions about how to position the new daughter hive. The number of strategies that beekeepers use is almost equal to the number of beekeepers who you ask. Those strategies are largely about ensuring that the two hives each get a good number of forager bees. In my opinion, it does not matter very much where you put the new hive. Here’s my reasoning. The foraging bees that you see leaving the hive and returning with pollen, nectar and resin do not do any house duties. They are the oldest bees in the colony and they have graduated from house duties never to return to them. In fact only about 10% of the bees in a hive are foragers. The remaining 90% of the bees are house bees that are responsible for the duties of cleaning up after the split, sealing any gaps in the new hive walls, constructing the entrance tube, defending the entrance against attack by natural enemies, sealing up any broken pots, cleaning up any spilt honey as well as continuing the task of rearing brood. These are the jobs that urgently need to be done in the days after a division. As long as the hive has some stored food, it does not urgently need the foragers. If you move a daughter hive straight to another part of your property, regardless of how far away, most of the foragers will return to the original location (so we usually leave the hive with the new empty bottom in this spot). But for the above reason, it does not matter much. The hive in the new position may appear very quiet for a while, but do not fear, the house bees will not dessert it, they are busy inside. Over the next few weeks the new foraging bees that graduate to this duty after the hive has moved will bond to the new position and will start to bring back resources. So the most important decision about positioning is about a good micro-environment, not how far from the original hive.

  • I just received my new hive of bees from Sugarbag Bees. How do I unpack and release them? + -

    When you have an appropriate position prepared for them in your garden, take the hive out of the cardboard box and completely remove the plug from the entrance (note: all the plastic and cloth should be removed. When open, the entrance hole into the timber of the box should be fully exposed). Also remove any plug from the smaller ventilation hole in the back. Bees should immediately emerge (if it is daylight and above 18°C). They will do an orientation flight to learn the new position. In this orientation flight they fly slowly backwards away from the hive, memorising the new position so they can get home after a flight. Within a day, you should see the first bees coming home with pollen on their hind legs, mission accomplished!

    Do not open the wooden hive itself (our 12 month guarantee of your colony's survival will not apply if you have opened the wooden hive itself). Remember, your hive may have been recently split and transported so it may still be a little fragile. You may loosen the luggage strap and lift off the honey super only to watch your bees grow, but only as long as the back of the brood excluder is still taped (see FAQ below). Keep the strap on when not looking. Within a couple of months, the bees will have fully glued the parts together so you can remove any tape that runs horizontally around the box joins, but you should leave the strap around the hive on permanently.

    Keep the area free of cobwebs, especially the area in front of the hive where most of the bee traffic will concentrate.

    Follow our positioning guide above.

  • What do I do about the clear brood excluder and tape? + -

    If you have purchased your hive from us, or we have split a hive for you, there will be yellow tape over the clear brood excluder between the middle and top box. This safely confines the bees to the bottom two breeding boxes, allowing you to loosen the strap and lift the honey super off like a lid to see inside. While this tape is on you can continue to view the bees, being sure to place the super on squarely when not looking to exclude light and any water getting in and strapping firmly. This is helpful for monitoring your colony while the grow. When the hive is looking full (or when you are not able to see in any more) you can remove the tape to allow the bees access to the honey super. After this, the honey super must stay on permanently. The bees will seal themselves inside and deposit extra food stores here that you may be able to extract later. At this time strap tightly, and tape around the joins.

    If the bees have breached the tape and are entering the honey super before you had wanted them to, either retape securely and continue to observe, or pull the tape off and let the bees up. Once the bees are occupying a box you don't want to be opening it.

    There is no set time for how long it will take the bees to fill the bottom two boxes. You can let the bees up straight away if you like, but they will not do much with the super until the other boxes are quite full, and you will lose the ability to see inside.

    If you are splitting a full hive using one of our boxes you may wish to tape over the brood excluder yourself, allowing wonderful temporary observation of how the bees grow into the boxes over time. The same principles apply. We use an external painters tape but you can use anything - keep in mind the bees may chew through paper tape.

    Tape that runs horizontally around the box joins can be kept on for a couple of months after application. This is to allow the bees time to properly seal the internal cavity and keep the unit secure during transport. After this time it is no longer necessary so to avoid it sticking to the paint, flaking or holding mositure against the box, you can remove it.

  • Help! My bees are swarming/fighting/dying on the ground? + -

    Stingless bees (at least the species in the group called Tetragonula) can be known to swarm around the hive entrance. This is not the same as when European bees swarm and may be for several reasons. One reason may be that the bees are involved in a battle which is characterised by pairs of bees latched together around the ground of the hive. We call them fighting swarms and they involve bees from the defending hive and another attacking colony. The attacking colony is attempting to take over the defending one by installing their own queen. Colonies do not usually die out as a result of fighting and in fact may be strengthened by it. It happens between nests of the same species and also between species, e.g. between carbonaria and hockingsi. Studies show that the genetics of the colony can change from the defending to the attacking after a fighting swarm.

    You may also see various associated behaviours such as the defending bees temporarily sealing the entrance of their nest with propolis. It is typical to see the swarming bees grip each other with their mandibles and fall to the ground locked together in mortal combat resulting in the ground beneath the entrance being covered in a carpet of bees a centimetre thick. Sometimes, towards the end of a fighting swarm, immature bees and young callow adults are dragged from the defending hive. The swarms may continue for a few weeks. Sometimes they cease and then start again weeks or months later. They can occur at any time of the year, but mostly in summer. Normal foraging activity usually ceases during fighting swarms, but colonies do not normally die out as a result of fighting.

    Other types of swarms may also be observed. In particular, swarms of males (drones), orientation swarms, and defensive swarms in response to drift or other perceived threats (large clouds of flying bees outside/on the hive, but no fighting). It is not necessarily a sign something is wrong, or that your bees are leaving/running out of room!

    When a fighting swarm reaches a crescendo with many bees fighting, we can use the opportunity to capture the attacking bees into a trap hive, at the same time taking the pressure off the defending hive. Learn how to do this in the next FAQ.

  • Can I capture a swarm? + -

    Stingless bees can sometimes be seen flying in an aggregation near the entrance of the existing hive (See previous FAQ). This may be an attacking swarm attempting to take over an existing colony. How do you know for sure? There will be pairs of bees locked in battle strewn around the vicinity of the hive. If this happens you can try to trap the attackers! You can simultaneously divert the attackers away from the defending hive and capture the invaders (for best success you should totally remove the defending colony, so you will need to close that hive up at night time then move it somewhere at least 1km away. Simply turning the hive or moving to another place in your yard will not do this. Moving >1km away will ensure the attacking colony has free reign over the trap box placed in the original position and will hopefully move in). Observe the following the process.

    Remove the defending hive to another site (close it at night, and ensure the other site is more than 1km away. Leave for at least 3 weeks. When you return it to your yard you must find a new position for it away from the trap hive, at least 3-5m). Place a trap hive that you want occupied in the position where the attackers are focusing. Attacking swarms do not normally raid hives unless they contain an existing colony. But, if the invading swarm has been “blooded” by their previous attempts, they may proceed with the invasion. If you happen to have a weak or recently dead hive, then you may be able to capture the swarm into this one and end up with a strong hive. The weak or dead hive has a lot of useful resources in the box, especially its entrance tube, propolis structures and food stores. So, instead of cleaning this box for reuse, put it in the place of the invaded hive. Eventually the invaders may establish their new colony in there by installing their queen and starting to rear brood. If you do not have a weak or dead hive, try using a recycled hive. A recycled hive is one that has been used before but the bees have died and it has been cleaned out for reuse. (Ideally, leave a layer of propolis on the inside surfaces. Also leave the entrance tube that the bees construct behind the entrance hole. If you have only a new trap hive box, prepare it by melting and pouring propolis and wax from another hive around the inside of the new box. Make an entrance ring and squash it into place.

    See trap hives for sale here

  • Can I remove a hive from a wall? + -

    To find out how to bud off a colony of stingless bees from a wall or other location where demolition is not an option, then you can use the budding technique. This is explained in detail in The Australian Native Bee Book.

    Coaxing a colony of stingless bees from a wall is almost impossible. As mentioned above, it is possible to bud off a hive from a colony in such a situation but the original nest will remain. To completely remove the colony, the only options are to remove part of the wall to gain access to the bees and transfer the whole nest into a hive box, spray them with insecticide, or learn to love them. You can probably guess which one of these options we recommend.

  • Are Cadaghi trees a problem for my bees? + -

    The red objects around the entrance of the hive are seeds of the eucalypt known as cadaghi or Corymbia torelliana. They are brought back to the hive in December / January when fruit (gumnuts) of this tree are mature. The bees collect the resin secreted in the gumnuts and disperse the seed in the process. You can remove it if you wish but it does not have to be removed, the bees will model it to their satisfaction. This is just another fascinating aspect of the biology of these bees.

    We do not believe that cadaghi is a serious threat to hives of stingless bees. Some have claimed this in the past but it does not seem to stand up to scrutiny. Giorgio Venturieri placed some cadagi hive structures in a container with adults of the stingless bee carbonaria. He placed it in a controlled temperature cabinet and slowly increased the temperature. At around 44 degrees Celsius, all the bees died but the resin was still firm and showing no sign of collapse. At higher temperatures the resin melted. Note that the bees died before the resin melted. Beekeepers who open a hive after it has died on a hot day observe dead bees and melted cadaghi resin. They attribute the death to the resin, but it appears the heat may be a primary reason the colony died and the resin melted later.

  • Are African Tulip trees a problem for my bees? + -

    The nectar and pollen of the African Tulip tree (scientific name: Spathodea campanulata) do appear to be toxic to bees and other insects. It is possible to see native bees and various other flies etc dead inside the flowers on the ground. It is not just alcohol which is toxic to bees and can form when nectar ferments. There appears to be toxins in the nectar and pollen that can kill insects. But bees are not strongly attracted to this plant and it is uncommon to see many around the flowers. So it seems that there is little danger to the bees. The flowers are evolved to be pollinated by birds, the nectar is not toxic to them, toxicity to insects may have evolved because the dead insects may be attractive to birds as food and encourage their visits. The overall effect on hives appears to be minimal. These trees are common all over Queensland, particularly in suburbs where the bees do particularly well.

  • How will Varroa mite effect native bees? What should I do with my hive? + -

    Varroa mite is a parasitic mite of European honey bees. In 2022 it was discovered in managed honey bee hives across areas of NSW, and in an attempt to eradicate the mite, hives in these areas have been euthanised. A baiting program was underway with the aim to attract bees of feral colonies that may be infected with varroa mite in an attempt to completely eliminate it. Bait stations containing the pesticide Fipronil have been set up in eradication zones where the mite has been discovered. The baiting program has now ceased, but to see a map of where baits were and where poisoned feral European nests may be, see the yellow zone on the map at the DPI website Affected areas include Newcastle and the Central Coast region.

    The mite does not directly attack native stingless bees but there are other associated risks to hives, like the possibility of consuming poison as a result of the eradication efforts. The aim of the baiting program is to attract feral hives of European honey bees to feed on the poison bait, take it back to the colony and kill it, along with any mites that may be present. European bees can fly several kilometres back to their nests. If in the vicinity of native stingless bees, these bees may rob stores from poisoned European bee hives and kill their own colony. Fipronil may stay active for several years.

    The impact on native bee populations is not yet known and hard to measure, though we estimate the risk to native stingless bee colonies is low. For those with a native stingless bee hive in yellow zones, you may be feeling worried about your bees but we do not think there is cause to panic. But if practicable, and for your own peace of mind, you may consider moving your native stingless bee hive to an area outside of the treatment areas. See our other FAQ about how to safely transport your hive.

    To keep up to date with the current situation, head to the Australian Native Bee Association -

  • Do native stingless bees have natural enemies that attack hives? + -

    Many different natural enemies attack stingless bee hives, often employing grotesque methods when they do. Curiously, stingless bees rarely suffer from diseases caused by microbes, but many insect pests can cause them grief. The most destructive pests are those that enter the nest and feed on the contents (e.g. hive syrphid fly, hive phorid fly, small hive beetle, native hive beetle, pollen mites). Other pests prey on foraging bees outside the hive (e.g. Bembix wasps, assassin bugs, spiders). Some are parasites that lay their eggs on the bees (e.g. the stingless bee braconid wasp).

    The worst pests are those that enter the hive. Your colony is most susceptible after a hive manipulation (e.g. division, honey extraction). The process of colony transfer creates a particularly great danger. For pests that enter hives, the best defence is to prevent entry. Points of entry include gaps between hive sections, and the hive’s structural holes (entrance hole, etc). To reduce gaps, ensure you have a well-built box that has flat joining surfaces between the hive sections.

    When opening boxes for division, honey extraction etc., clean any spilled honey from the surfaces and scrape the surfaces to remove any propolis or other material that may prevent the sections coming together tightly. Bees seal gaps as quickly as they can, so help them by ensuring these gaps are narrow. If you see wide gaps after closing the hive, then seal them with tape.

    Recently transferred or divided hives are most susceptible to invasion by natural enemies. Of the two hives produced by splitting, the one with the original top half is particularly susceptible. This is because this half has a new bottom with an entrance that is unprotected. Eventually, the bees will build a tube internal to the entrance. This tube, approximately 150 mm long, is a key feature of nest defense. Guards line this gallery and fiercely repel any enemies attempting to enter. Without the tube, it’s easier for pests to sneak in. It takes the colony days or even weeks to build this tube. This may be too late for a hive if the intensity of pest attack is high.

    In the event of the death of a hive, note that it is rarely clear whether hive death was actually caused by a natural enemy and, if so, which one did it. It is usually quite difficult to diagnose the cause of hive death. By the time a problem is recognised, various natural enemies may be present. Whether one or more of these enemies caused the demise or moved in afterwards is often ambiguous. But a good understanding of these enemies will help you to determine what may be attacking your hive and what you can do about it.

  • Are there any diseases of stingless bees? What is Shanks disease? + -

    Shanks brood disease is a stingless bee brood pathogen first identified in Sydney, but since confirmed in Queensland. It has been confirmed in Tetragonula carbonaria, Tetragonula hockingsi and Austroplebeia australis stingless bee species. The disease is caused by a strain of Lysinibacillus sphaericus bacterium.

    Hives affected by Shanks disease are characterised by discoloured (not white) larvae and pupae. Infected larvae and pupae are often pulled from their cells and dumped outside the hive by workers. This hygienic behaviour minimises spread of disease. Infected bees are also seen inside hives, especially around the brood chamber. The pupal brood appears “shot” meaning many cells are missing. But there are usually also healthy bees, and an active and apparently healthy queen. These hives may be low in activity and light in weight, but not always.

    As yet Shanks disease doesn’t seem to be a particularly virulent pathogen. We have observed cases where hives will persist quite happily that have shown signs of Shanks disease, and even hives that have apparently fully recovered. In a few cases it leads to the decline and death of a colony. The bacterium that causes the disease occurs naturally in the environment. It could be possible that this bacterium exists in most stingless bee colonies, but only becomes a problem in already weakened colonies.

    While there is still a lot to learn about the disease, it is a good idea that we, the stingless bee keeping community, modify our practices so as to reduce the impact this could have on our industry. Reasonable precautions include washing tools and hands between work on different hives, and not transferring brood or food material among hives. It is important not to panic, and to keep an eye on activity and signs of health in suspected cases. There is a good chance that your hive will recover from the infection and become strong and healthy again.

  • Are insecticides a danger to my hive? + -

    Stingless bees are moderately susceptible to insecticides. It should be safe to have the inside of your house sprayed for pests as it is unlikely any drift will enter the hive. However, if you are having treatment for termites that involves heavy applications of insecticides around the house, then move the hive away for a few weeks (please see other FAQ on moving your hive).

    Soft chemical insecticides are generally unlikely to be harmful to stingless bees. When considering chemicals to control pest insects, think about how likely it is the bees are to make contact with the chemical and how toxic is the chemical to bees. A fruit fly trap baited with insecticide is unlikely is harm the bees because the bees will not be attracted to it. Garden sprays may also be dangerous for the bees only if the spraying is done on a flowering plant that the bees are foraging on. If you suspect this is the case, move the hive away for a few days or close it and move it to a cool spot. Hives should only be kept closed for a few days.

    Hives placed in orchards in which chemical spray are applied have proved to be surprisingly resistant to these pesticides. Perhaps their very ancient trait of using plant resins as building materials has resulted in resistance. Plant resins are a cocktail of chemicals, some very toxic, but are used by the bees seemingly without any ill effect. Millions of years of sharing hives with these natural toxins may have given the bees resistance to artificial pesticides.

  • I think I have other native bees in my garden, what species are they? + -

    Australia has a great diversity of native bee species. So far, scientists have formally identified over 1700 different species, and estimate that there are approximately another 300 awaiting discovery. The stingless bees (The Meloponine bees) make up just 11 of these estimated 2000 species. Some of the other commonly encountered Australian native bees include Blue Banded Bees, Teddy Bear Bees, Neon Cuckoo Bees, Carpenter Bees, masked bees, furrow bees and Leaf Cutter Bees. Most of our native bee species do not live in social colonies, they are instead solitary, with single females nesting on their own. There are a variety of different nesting strategies for these solitary bees, including species that nest in the soil, in small cavities left by beetles in dead wood, and in the pithy stems of certain plants.

  • What plants can I grow in my garden to provide forage for stingless bees? + -

    Stingless bees fly for several hundred metres to feed on flowers so it is the neighbourhood that counts not just your garden. However, you should ensure there is a diverse range of flower options within this range that will provide food year-round for the bees. These bees thrive in the suburbs where people purposefully plant lovely flowers so consider what options are around where you are positioning your hive.

    To contribute to the flowers available to your hive, you can grow plants with flowers that are attractive to bees. For ideas on plant species to grow, see the Valley Bees website page on planting and creating habitat to attract bees:

    The Wheen Bee Foundation have produced a great series of planting guides for native bees, designed for gardeners and land managers. Each guide provides a list of local native plants that are used by native bees and other pollinators, and includes information about the size of each plant, the flower colour, time of year of flowering and some growing tips. There are currently over 35 different guides for regions all around the country. The guides can be downloaded freely from the Wheen Bee Foundation website: – search for ‘Powerful Pollinators’.

  • The Australian Native Bee Book + -

    For more detailed discussion of all of these questions and many more, check out our book - The Native Bee Book: Keeping Stingless Bee Hives for Pets, Pollination, and Sugarbag Honey, by Tim Heard. See here for sneak peeks, to purchase online and to find your local stockist, our new book.

    If you do not wish to order online, contact us for alternative ways to buy: You can pay by bank transfer and be sent a copy. Or you can collect your copy at Sugarbag Bees, 193 Norman Avenue, Norman Park (by appointment only). You can even send us a cheque with your address and we will send you a copy.
    Price: $35. Postage in Australia $8.