Native Stingless Bees or Sugar Bag Bees

Trigona species and Austroplebeia species

Australia has around 12 species of native bees that live in hives and which do not sting! They are small (about 3-5 mm in length), compact, dark-coloured bees. Stingless bees are mainly found in the northern and eastern areas of Australia. Each nest has a queen, drones and thousands of workers. These bees produce sugarbag honey, a highly prized food of Aborigines who gathered it from wild nests. Each hive produces only small amounts of sugarbag, less than 1 kg per year and so it is a special product, to be savoured and relished.

Stingless bee nests are made of wax and resin and are built in hollow tree trunks, branches, fallen logs and rock crevices. Unlike honeybees, the cells used to rear the larvae, the brood comb, are separated from larger ‘pots’ that are used to store the honey and pollen. Some species of stingless bees are very similar. Often the most reliable way to tell them apart is the structure of the nests, particularly the shape of the brood comb.

The common stingless bee in south-eastern Queensland is Trigona carbonaria. It is black with whitish hairs on the side of the thorax. The brood comb of this species is a characteristic horizontal spiral. Trigona carbonaria can be domesticated in artificial hives such as wooden boxes. It is found in coastal areas of eastern Australia from the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland to Bega in New South Wales.

An Australian native stingless bee, Trigona carbonaria. These dark, compact bees are only around 4 mm in length. An Australian native stingless bee, Trigona carbonaria. These dark,
compact bees are only around 4 mm in length.

Workers of the native stingless bee Trigona carbonaria guard the entrance to their hive. Workers of the native stingless bee Trigona carbonaria guard the
entrance to their hive.

The native stingless bee Trigona carbonaria can be domesticated in artificial hives such as this one. The entrance to the hive is the small round hole near the bottom of the box. The native stingless bee Trigona carbonaria can be domesticated in
artificial hives such as this one. The entrance to the hive is the small
round hole near the bottom of the box.

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