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Stingless Bees (Tetragonula* and Austroplebeia)

*Previously called Trigona
Why has their name been changed?

A small Australian native stingless bee (genus Tetragonula) and -- to its right -- a commercial honey bee (Apis) are seen here posing on a bright yellow daisy. Compare their sizes!

Australian stingless bees are small black bees about 4 mm long which live in large colonies of hundreds or even thousands of bees.

Stingless bees usually nest in hollows inside large living or dead trees in warm areas of NSW, Queensland, the Northern Territory and northern areas of Western Australia. In far northern Australia, some species also commonly nest in urban situations such as inside wall cavities and flower pots. It is very sad when such nests are destroyed by people who think they are dangerous. Australia's social native bees are stingless, quite harmless and make wonderful garden pets.

Thousands of stingless bee nests are also destroyed each year when trees are cleared for land subdivisions. A number of major stingless bee keepers in Queensland are rescuing threatened nests and boxing them to establish apiaries for honey production and pollination.

Boxed bee nests can be purchased from some of these stingless bee keepers. For example, boxed nests of Tetragonula carbonaria (previously called Trigona carbonaria), a stingless bee species suitable for Queensland and northern and eastern regions of NSW, are currently available for sale from Russell and Janine Zabel (phone 0404 892 139; website: www.zabel.com.au).

With the land owner's permission, nests can be saved on recently cleared land by searching for the bees still flying into their nests in the felled trees. The nests can be cut out with a chainsaw. Nests are best removed in the cool of the evening when flying bees have returned to the nest. Be sure to mark the top of the nest so that you can set it up in the correct orientation in the new location. Cut the tree initially about 60 cm above and below the nest entrance. Determine the position of the top and bottom of the nest by probing the tree cavity with a stick. Then you can trim the log down until it is just a little longer than the nest length. Cover the nest entrance during transport with some soft gauze and tape. Completely seal up all other gaps and openings in the log to protect the nest against attack by ants.

For further advice on setting the nest up in a new location see: Care of your nest of native stingless bees.

To learn more about the fascinating stingless bees look at the booklets, magazines and books available from our Aussie Bee Shop.

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Author: Anne Dollin
(See Anne Dollin's Google+ profile)

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