Tetragonula carbonaria FAQ

What is a native stingless beehive?
What should I do on a very hot day?
Do the bees swarm?
What is hive splitting?
What does the hive look like inside?
What do the bees build their internal hive from?
Should the hive be sited in any particular way?
Do the Trigona control the hive temperature?
When will I see them working?
Do they have any predators?
Are there any other major threats?
Why is the entrance to the hive coloured?
What about other nearby Tetragonula hives?
How many Tetragonula bees are in a healthy hive?
How far will the bees travel from the hive?
Can we collect their honey?
Will I see the bees in my garden?
What is the best place from which to observe them?
It appears that they are eating some of the Poly-box?
Recommended internet resources 

What is a native stingless beehive?

The beehive is the home for the native bee Tetragonula carbonaria.  The bees live in the wooden box known as an OATH (Original Australian Tetragonula Hive) and in many places such as Ku-ring-gai, the hive is given extra insulation by being covered by a foam box. The design of the foam box has been rigorously tested under our local conditions. The bees will not require much attention for 2-3 years except for hot days (see below).   

What should I do on a very hot day?

Temperatures over 44oC are dangerous for your hive.  The insulation provided should ensure their survival, however you can assist the hive by providing additional cover or placing a wet towel over the foam.  The best results occur by removing OATH from the foam box and putting a wet towel over the wooden hive but most times this is impossible due to the bees using resin to connect the hive to the foam box.

In the afternoon, on these 44oC + days when the temperature starts to fall, remove the foam box (if possible) and allow the hive to cool over night. Ensure that the foam box is replaced early the next morning. 

Another easy option is to place the hive in a cool area.  If you decide to move the hive, in the evening, seal the entrance with masking tape so that you will trap all bees inside.    

 Do the bees swarm?

Not as you probably mean by the word swarm.  New hives are formed by a queen accompanied by a few workers, unlike the honeybee which swarms in very large numbers.  When native bees do swarm it involves mating or hive defence.   

 What is hive splitting?

Hive splitting is when an artificial or OATH hive is torn asunder.  This is a straightforward process that occurs every one to two years.  Essentially the the wooden hive inside the foam box is made up of 2 equal halves.  The bees resin the 2 halves together, however with some persuasion, the halves can be separated and an empty top put on a full bottom and vice versa thus turning one hive into 2.

Each half of the hive, when full, contains eggs and food.  The half that doesn't get the queen has to wait until a queen hatches from the numerous queen cells scattered through the egg mass.

What does the hive look like inside?

In the middle of the hive is the egg mass, protected by the involucrum (a covering membrane), densely surrounded by storage pots and other structures.

 What do the bees build their internal hive from?

A mixture of resins often gathered from trees, coupled with wax secreted by the worker bees.

 Should the hive be sited in any particular way?

Yes.  It’s best to site the hive facing somewhere in the arc of north through to east, as that is the direction from which our least severe weather comes. Please ensure that they always have a clear flight path, which may involve a little pruning. The bees love hot weather, just avoid westerly aspects surrounded by hard surfaces such as bricks or concrete

 Do the Tetragonula control the hive temperature?

Yes.  Tetragonula do regulate hive temperatures. Firstly the brood area is enclosed by the involucrum, in cold weather they cluster around and warm up the space. In hot weather they fan the air and open holes in the involucrum. Their aim is to keep the brood temperature between 26 and 28.5C.  In Sydney they do prefer a hotter position than in Qld.

When will I see them working?

Tetragonula are very temperature dependent.

  • Below 18oC or when it is raining Tetragonula are unlikely to appear
  • At 18oC you may see Tetragonula congregate around the hive entrance.
  • At around 20oC some scouts will start to fly off
  • Above 23oC Tetragonula start to move off and above
  • At 25 – 38oC Tetragonula are working hard
  • At 44oC and above Tetragonula hives can die from the heat 

If your hive has no bee activity in temperatures above 20oC there is a major problem

Do they have any predators?

Yes.  The most common are small hive beetle and spiders. Spiders should just be removed, however small hive beetle can occasionally kill a hive and there is nothing that can be done. 

There are also two types of flies that are predators and these are very active during the warm months. One is a hover fly that resembles a paper wasp.  The other fly is about the size of a native bee but grey in colour.  These pests are more of a nuisance than a threat to the hives survival.

To protect themselves Tetragonula will make the entrance hole to their hive much smaller.  Please do not enlarge the hole as you will place your hive at risk.

Are there any other major threats?

Yes.  Water in the hive is very dangerous.  If your hive is totally enclosed in a foam box with a foam lid, please ensure that the lid does not blow off by placing a weight on it and as added insurance place some drainage holes in the bottom of the foam box. Hives will die if they are permanently seated in water

Why is the entrance to the hive coloured?

Over time Tetragonula are likely to add a reddish coloured resin to the entrance of their hive. The colour is determined by the type of resin that they have access to. The use of resin around the entrance hole is one of the major defences Tetragonula have. 

What about other nearby Tetragonula hives?

Tetragonula hives sometimes fight each other.  Although Tetragonula cannot sting they do have mandibles (mouth parts) and with these, they can hold enemies whilst others wrap the offender in resin, (which they always have ready just inside the opening). The enemy ends up being part of the internal hive structure.

The easiest way to tell if Tetragonula hives are fighting, is by the number of dead Tetragonula found in the vicinity of the hive, still gripping each other.  There is no known way to prevent these fights and usually the hive does not appear to be badly affected.

How many Tetragonula bees are in a healthy hive?

About 6,000 – 10,000 individuals.

How far will the bees travel from the hive?

Up to a 500m radius.

Can we collect their honey?

Although theoretically possible, at Ku-ring-gai most hives are not set up the hives for honey collection.  Tetragonula can make up to half a kilo a year as opposed to the ferals that produce up to 20k-25k per year.

Will I see the bees in my garden?

You may see bees on a number of different plants according to the season and available flowers.  Tetragonula like open flowers with lots of stamen, such as single bloom Camellias.  Turpentines and Angophora hispida are also very popular.

What is the best place from which to observe them?

Off to one side of the front and below the hive entry level. If you watch carefully you’ll see them coming back with full pollen bags attached to their legs. Depending what is in flower at the time the pollen will vary in colour from bright yellow through to almost black.

It appears that they are eating some of the foam box?

Yes, some hives do and others don’t. We don’t know the reason but we do know that the bees in those hives do just as well.

Recommended internet resources

The Australian Native Bee Research Centre  –  www.aussiebee.com.au

AN bees on Yahoo groups      http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/ANBees/

Videos on hive splitting         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvXHnVxx7LY

The Bee Bible

Australian Stingless Bees John Klumpp
ISBN 9780975713815

 Pretty pictures

 

 

 

 Ashhurst, November 2006