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|Your observations of their behaviour could help unravel some of the remaining mysteries of their secret lives within the nest.
Note: Stingless bees are tropical species that only occur in the warmer parts of Australia.
Keeping a Nest in its Original Log
The safest way to keep a nest of stingless bees is to leave it in its natural log. Even in experienced hands, about one third of nests can die from the disruption of being transferred to a box.
If the nest has been recently rescued from a fallen tree, it is most important to seal up any breaks or cuts in the log as soon as possible.
Stingless bees defend their nest against predator insects by sealing up all nest openings, other than the nest entrance, with wax and resin. These defences may be broken when the nest section is removed from the tree. A damaged nest can be severely attacked by ants or other bees.
The ends of the log should be sealed with caps of timber or metal to keep out rain and invading insects. If ants are in the area, the nest should be placed on a brick standing in a shallow container of water and detergent until the bees have fully repaired all damage to their nest structure. Any cuts in the log should also be sealed with materials such as masking tape or commercial beeswax.
Keeping a Nest in a Boxed Hive
In many parts of Australia, stingless bees can also be successfully kept in boxed hives. However, hive boxes offer less insulation than a log; so special attention must be paid to the siting of the box - see below.
The boxes used for stingless bees are smaller than those used for commercial honeybees (Apis). They also have a special two-part design that allows the nest to be propagated by a method called splitting.
The photo on right shows a stingless bee hive built by Russell Zabel.
Small amounts of honey can be harvested from boxed hives of stingless bees in warm parts of Australia such as Queensland. (Remember that in colder areas such as Sydney, stingless bees need all their supplies of honey to survive their dormant period in the winter.) Boxes with a separate compartment for the honey stores, making honey harvesting quicker and safer, can be purchased from some bee breeders, such as Tim Heard.
Full details about the designs of boxes for Australian stingless bees and step by step instructions for boxing and splitting hives can be found in the stingless bee publications available on this website.
Where to Site your Nest or Box of Stingless Bees
The nest or box should be sited in a warm spot in the garden, preferably with morning sun. The site should also be sheltered from extreme afternoon heat and from cold winds. The bees require flowers for pollen and nectar within about 100 metres of the nest. They will happily use a wide variety of native and introduced flowers. In hot areas, a supply of water near the nest is also desirable.
Also remember that household and garden insecticides can kill bees. Take great care not to let your nest's foraging bees come in contact with insecticides.
Flies and Beetles that may Attack Stingless Bees
A weak or damaged nest or boxed hive may be attacked by some specific predators: tiny black Phorid flies, larger Syrphid flies which look like wasps with forked antennae, and South African Small Hive Beetles. These all love to lay their eggs on the honey and pollen stores. However, only a weak nest would allow the grubs to multiply to damaging levels. Again it is important to help the bees seal up any gaps in their nest defences as quickly as possible.
Instructions on how to build several ingenious traps for protecting hives against Phorid flies are described in Tips on Stingless Beekeeping (Volume 3).
Want to know more?
For more practical information and tips on how to keep stingless bees, read the following bookets from the Native Bees of Australia series:
-- Nests of Australian Stingless Bees
-- Behaviour of Australian Stingless Bees
-- How to Recognise the Different Types of Australian Stingless Bees
-- Keeping Australian Stingless Bees in a Log or Box
Boxing and Splitting Hives -- A Complete Do it Yourself Guide for Stingless Bee Keepers
Tips on Stingless Beekeeping by Australian Beekeepers (Volumes 1, 2 and 2)
© 1997-2012 Australian Native Bee Research Centre
PO Box 74, North Richmond NSW 2754, Australia