But what makes insects truly remarkable is the complex relationships they form with other organisms. From mind controlling fungi that infect ants and make them do their bidding to blood sucking lice that cling to the flippers of seals in freezing Antarctic seas.
Like any good television soap opera there is murder, betrayal, promiscuity and manipulation in this miniature civilisation. This workshop will give you a closer look at insects and their complicated relationships.
I am the director, co-founder and SE Queensland presenter for Bugs Ed. I was captivated by insects from an early age, and a brief frisking by my parents would usually turn up an array of critters in my pockets. I was around eight when I decided to become an entomologist when I was older.
I completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in Entomology at the University of Queensland and later went on to receive first class Honours in Entomology. I have recently been appointed as an Adjunct Industry Fellow at the University of Queensland.
Australian Native Stingless bees make a home wherever they find a suitable nesting site. Yandina Community Garden’s Native Stingless Bees are no exception and have done just that. Spend a morning with Mel Marx exploring and understanding how you can rescue Native Stingless bees, what you should be looking for when rehoming them and how to care for them going forward. We will be rehoming the Native Stingless bees that call a polystyrene box their home in the nursery.
Mel Marx is an avid Native Stingless beekeeper and works with Bob Luttrell to rescue and rehome bee colonies in water meter boxes. She lives on a 100-acre property North of Yandina and is currently creating habitat for the bees by planting native plant and tree species on her property. She hopes to get a Native Stingless bee honey industry up and running working with other beekeepers to make this exceptional honey with its incredible medicinal properties available to more people.
Places are limited, booking is essential. To book click here
This project has been proudly supported by Sunshine Coast Council’s grants program.
Bees made their appearance about 120 million years ago. There are currently 25,000 species of bees documented worldwide, although it is believed the number might be closer to 30,000 species. Australia is home to about 2,000 of the world’s bee species. In addition to the native species, 6 species of bee have been introduced into Australia, this includes the European honeybee. Like most bees in the world, Australian native bees have a range of sizes, colours, nesting requirements,behaviours and complex social interaction. Australian native bees have evolved into 7 families all with their own behaviours, colours and traits. Of the 7 families of bees, one of those families only occur in Australia and nowhere else in the world. There is currently a lot of interest in the Australian Native stingless bee that is being used with great success to pollinate crops, increasing the yields by as much as 600%. Less is talked about the solitary native bees that by all accounts are even better at pollination than both the honeybee and native stingless bee.
Diversity & Importance
Apart from the varying colours of native bees they also build their nests in different places using different building material. Other differences include how they accumulate or carry pollen. Some bees have pollen sacs that they use to collect pollen, others cover their entire body with pollen, and others carry pollen in their crops. There is one species of bee (Persoonia bees) that only feed on the flowers of one plant and that plant can only be pollinated by this bee, no other. Thus there is a co-dependence between bee and plant for survival.
When it comes to nesting there are many differences. Some bees nest in mud on the ground. Others build a nest made from leaf cuttings or inhabit cracks or holes in pieces of wood. The way that bees behave when visiting a plant also differs: some are what are termed buzz pollinators, they vibrate their entire body when visiting flowers thus ensuring pollen all over their bodies and in the air. Tomatoes are a good example of a plant that requires buzz pollination to produce fruit. Some bees are parasitic and lay their eggs in the provisioned cells of other bee species.
The importance of bees is well known with at least 70% of all our food requiring some type of pollination. Therefore their survival is very closely linked to ours. It is no secret that there has been a significant decline in bee populations throughout the world that is cause for great concern.
The challenges bees face are numerous. The biggest of these being chemical. Many of the pesticides being used for crops and other plants have a detrimental effect on bee populations. Research done in the US has shown that bees have declined from 6 million hives in 1947 to 2.4 million in 2008. This is more than 60%. The number of bee colonies per hectare has declined by 90% since 1962.
The biggest culprit is the group of pesticides named neonicotinoids which is chemically related to nicotine with nicotine-like effects. As a result, in Europe and the US, these pesticides have been banned. Secondly, pests such as Verroa Mite, Hive Beetle and others plague the honeybee and our social native bees. Luckily in Australia, we do not have Verroa Mite and our honeybees and honey is sought after for its purity and quality. The third threat facing bees is the ongoing destruction of habitat and thus people are encouraged to create habitat for the dwindling bee populations.
What We Can Do to look after our bee populations:
- We need to lobby our own government to ban the destructive chemicals that are not only harming our bee populations but all other beneficial insects as well. Landowners should be encouraged to change their cropping practices to more sustainable approaches using fewer chemicals.
- More people should be encouraged to keep bees and manage the hives in a responsible way to keep bee pests to a minimum.
- We should all be encouraged to create habitat and shelter for bees. Habitat creation includes planting a lot of native trees, grasses, and flowers for the bees to have an abundance of food. We should also provide shelters for bees to nest and multiply. An important aspect of a garden is to allow some of our vegetables and flowers to go to seed. Also, allow some spots in your garden to be wild with little cutting and neatening up, this is ideal habitat for bees.
Planting For Bees
Below is a list of plants that create food and habitat for bees. Please note this list is not exhaustive but indicative of the types of plants that bees like.
|Spotted Gum||Fan flower||Basil (particularly Thai or cinnamon)|
|Broad-leafed red iron bark||Pigeon Pea||Rosemary|
|White bottlebrush||Flax lilies||Broccoli|
|Silky oak||Paper/everlasting daisy||Egg Plant|
|Sugar gum||Tea tree||Mustard Greens|
To Learn More
List of resources below
The Australian Native Bee book – Tim Heard
Valley Bees – http://mrccc.org.au/valley-bees/
Bob Luttrell – bobthebeeman.com.au
Youtube – The hidden beauty of pollination
YCG will be hosting Keith Upward in February who will teach us how to build insect hotels for native solitary bees and other beneficial insects. Click here to book.
Beekeeping is so much more than a hobby – it is a deep fascination and passion that grabs you, never to let go. My fascination with bees started at a very young age running around after them in my Nan’s garden as they flitted from blossom to blossom. Mom cautioning in the background “Mind, they will sting you”.
The fascination only grew as I started understanding the wonders of these beautiful insects. They are hard-working, organized and focused, all traits that I admire not only in the animal kingdom but in people as well. They are the ultimate team players with each bee fulfilling its role perfectly, no egos, simply working hard at what they do best to secure the next generation.
It is only in the latter part of my life that I became a real beekeeper with my own hives. And then I discovered native stingless bees. My first impression when I saw one was that they were ants with wings. So small, so diligent and masters at the craft of pollination.
Beekeeping has become very popular in the last few years, particularly the keeping of native stingless bees in urban environments where they thrive. I have been around beekeepers that have inspired me to be a better beekeeper. They treat their bees with a huge amount of respect and lovingly take all precautions to disrupt their hives as little as possible. I think we owe it to these hardworking insects to be the best and kindest beekeepers we can be.
So how do you get started?
Well firstly decide why you want to keep bees and what type of beekeeper you want to be. Some of the reasons for keeping bees might be to improve the pollination of your vegetables and fruit crop or contribute to their preservation. Native stingless bees are particularly suited to teaching children how to care for the environment as they don’t sting and are easy to maintain. You might enjoy their honey, which is unique and has excellent medicinal properties as well. Others simply keep them for relaxation, sitting and watching them after a long day as they rhythmically come in and out of the hive.
Having a hive is like having pets, it is a long-term commitment so be sure that you are up for it. The way to be sure would be to attend courses and do as much reading as you can before getting a hive. Native stingless bees do not cope well with cold climates so be sure that your climate is suited for them to thrive.
Now find yourself a reputable beekeeper that will provide you with all you need and guide you where needed.
What is some of the basic information you need to know when keeping native stingless bees? Firstly Australia has 11 species of native stingless bees. The most popular being Tetragonula Hockingsi and Tetragonula Carbonaria. You are most likely to get one of these species from your chosen beekeeper.
Native stingless bees have a foraging range of 500 metres so they require a plant-rich environment that has pollen, nectar and resin. They are particularly fond of native plants for which they are well adapted. So get to know your native plants and start planting or potting up if you have a small space. Locate your bees where they get morning sun, are protected from the wind and afternoon sun. You can place them on balconies, in buildings, under gazebos or trees. Native stingless bees are pest and disease resistant and only have a few pests that could invade the hive. But they have excellent defences that stave off most attacks. You can support them by ensuring the hive is off the ground so that pests like the small hive beetle find it more difficult to invade the hive.
What do you need to start?
In the beginning, all you need is a hive and bees placed in a good location. There are no standard hives such as in the honeybee world although there has been an attempt at standardising using what is termed the OATH (Original Australian Trigona Hive) hive. Important to note is that not all hives are equal. Good construction is key and although a lot of different materials are currently being used, a natural hardwood, in my opinion, is preferable because of its ability to absorb moisture and regulate temperature.
Native Stingless bees, unlike honeybees, do not have an ability to dehumidify their hives and excess water can invite all sorts of unwanted bacteria etc. The hive sides should at least be 45-47 mm thick. This mimics the wall thickness of the logs that are used in their natural environment. There are currently a lot of different hive designs and materials being used. Given that the keeping of native stingless bees is a very young science, there are many questions still unanswered. But I think that keeping things as natural and close to what is used in nature is probably a safe bet. Also to enable observation of your hive, put in an observation window, although the bees eventually cover this window up with resin it allows you, in the beginning, to observe how your bees are doing.
If you are interested in harvesting honey, get a hive that has a honey super where excess honey can be stored by the bees and harvested by you. You might also want to split your hive in the future. If so, consideration of a hive that has a good splitting system that does not disrupt the hive too much is also important.
For the next 12 months observe the bees. If the bees are carrying out debris from the hive then you know that bees are hatching and there is a cycle of life happening. Bees coming and going with full pollen sacs tells you there is enough food in their immediate environment. If it is a very dry season, give your bees supplementary feeding with a good, sugar-based syrup (recipes can be found online). Also, use your sense of smell. When there is a good run of pollen and nectar you will be able to smell the beautiful honey when standing close to your hive. All of this is an indication that your hive is growing and thriving. After 12 months you might want to split the hive or harvest honey, but that is a topic for another post.
Most importantly never stop learning. Read as much as you can and do as many courses as you can. Also, document things happening in and around your hive. That way you can contribute to the building of the science around Australian native stingless bees.
|Honey Bees||Native Stingless Bees|
|Hexagonal comb to rear young & store food||Rear young in special brood cells & store food in large pots|
|One queen||One queen & princesses in waiting|
|Build nest from wax||Build nest from mixture of wax & plant resin|
|Tight control of the temperature in the hive||Limited ability to control the temperature in the hive|
|Honey bees feed their young regularly||Mass provision of the brood cell|
|Establish a new colony through swarming||First build a new nest & gradually move in with a new queen|
|Foraging range 5 Km||Foraging range 500 m|
|More adaptable to different environments||Mainly in the tropics & sub-tropics|
|Need a permit||No permit needed|
|Make about 50-100kg of honey/year||Make 1kg of honey/year|