I tend to sweat the small stuff. So a few stiff drinks would be required if I had to split my own beehive. Oddly enough our hive of stingless bees are also referred to as sweat bees due to their habit of collecting human sweat. Perhaps the bees would have preferred my anxious, sweaty approach to the split. Alas, we were lucky enough to have Dr Toby Smith from Sugarbag (also founder of Bee Aware Brisbane) do the split for us. Toby works with renowned entomologist and native bee dealer Dr Tim Heard. Tim is probably the guy you want on your trivia team when it comes to Australian native stingless bees. Through Sugarbag, he has created an urban bee farmer partnership where he helps the owners of stingless bees to split and propagate hives for pollination and conservation. After our split, we gave Toby the daughter hive but next time we’ll keep it so we have several in the garden (they can be 3m apart). Toby also said it was one of the easiest splits he’s ever done…clearly my bees are better than anyone else’s. Another bonus included eating samples of sugarbag honey during the process. Sugarbag is real bush tucker and is rich, liquidy, lemony and almost tastes alcoholic. Stingless bees only produce about 1kg of sugarbag per year compared to honey bees which produce around 50kg.
There are 1600 species of native bees in Australia and only 14 of them are stingless. Most stingless bees are found in the tropical north and a few in sub-tropical regions (they like building nests in tree cavities). We keep Trigona carbonaria which are 1 of the 3 most commonly kept species. These clever, little black insects (4 mm long) fly up to 1km and are similar to honeybees in terms of their highly social behaviour and pollination (they store pollen and honey). This is unique to stingless bees as other Australian native species are solitary and cannot wait to chow down on their nectar or use it to stock a brood cell. Like honey bees, they also collectively care for their brood and have a queen, workers (infertile females) and drones (males). As you can see in the photos, the brood chamber is located in the centre of the spiral comb (looks like lentils to me) and is surrounded by pots of honey and pollen in big dark brown egg shaped pods. The central brood comb is where laval bees are housed. Essentially the brood comb is ‘split’ in half when a man made hive is opened so it can be propagated (Tim’s design). PLEASE consider buying a hive of stingless bees if you are in a warmer climate (from Sydney North upwards). Support pollination and bee conservation! :: Jem
Reference: Heard, T.A. ‘Stingless Bees.’ Nature Australia, Spring 1996, pp. 51-55.