Native bees

Native bee on stamen of red lily
Native bee collecting pollen from the stamen of a lily.

To most people a bee is the common honey bee which Europeans domesticated centuries ago and brought with them to Australia, but there are many kinds of native bees here.

Most are solitary but some forms colonies (hives or nests, usually in tree hollows) like the European bee, and make honey to feed their young. Aboriginal people have raided their nests since the Dreamtime and European settlers in northern Australia followed suit – my wife grew up on a sheep property near Hughenden and recalls her father cutting nests from their trees, bringing them home and straining out the honey by hanging it in a muslin bag.

These days some people are keeping hives of native bees the same way they would keep European bees – ‘Bob the Bee Man‘, for instance (and there is lots of how-to info at Aussie Bee). One of our local primary schools, Hermit Park SS, has even kept some as an environmental studies project.

The bees in question are variously called ‘Native bees’ (because they are), ‘Stingless bees’ (because they are, but they will bite instead if threatened) or ‘Sweat bees’ (because they will land on bare skin to drink your sweat). The one in my photos here is either Trigona carbonaria or its close relation Trigona hockingsi. They are much smaller than European bees – only about 4 mm long, around the size of an ordinary house fly.

Native bee flying towards lily
Coming back for more – although already heavily loaded

P.S. I said ‘many’ kinds of native bees – then I found this site and discovered just how many: 2000 species and counting!

Red lily
The lily