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Febuary 2001

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Voluntary Contributors to AHBIC

AHBIC wishes to thank all those who contribute to the support of the organisation. It would be prudent, when purchasing queen bees or selling honey, to consider supporting those who support the industry and conduct price comparisons on that basis. A list of all current contributors appears below.

AB’s Honey

Australian Rain Forest Honey

Australian Honey Bee Improvement Programme

Australian Sungold Queen Bees

Beeline Queens

Bradbury, GN and DJ

Capilano Honey Limited

CE Mills

Chiltern Honey

Coopers Fine Foods

Dewar Apiaries

Hunter Valley Apiaries

Koonoomoo Apiaries

R & E McDonald

R. Stephens

RC & DJ Phillips Pty Ltd

Pollination Association of WA

Swan Settlers

T & M Weatherhead

Walkabout Apiaries

Weerona Apiaries

Wescobee Limited

Stingless Bee Keeping in Australia – Tim A Heard and Anne E Dollin

A recent survey of the keeping of stingless bees in Australia in 1998/9 showed that this new activity is growing rapidly. Responses came from over 250 stingless beekeepers with more than 1400 colonies. The industry is concentrated in coastal Queensland with Trigona carbonaria being the most common species kept. Rates of future colony increase expected by survey participants (15-18% per annum) were low compared with increases achieved by experienced beekeepers (30%), but both indicate that the industry could grow rapidly over the next two decades. Enjoyment, conservation, crop pollination (mainly macadamia nut), honey production and hive sales were the major reasons for keeping stingless bees.


One of the most common groups of bees in northern tropical and subtropical Australia are the stingless bees (Meliponini). These are highly social bees which live in colonies of thousands of individuals. The Australia species of stingless bees are small (< 4 mm long), black in colour, nest in hollow trees and belong to two genera: Trigona and Austroplebeia. Six species of Trigona (Heterotigona) occur in Australia. The genus Austroplebeia only occurs in Australia and consists of about four species.

In recent years, parts of Australia have seen a surge of interest in the keeping of native stingless bee species. We believe that this industry will continue to grow strongly over the next few decades from almost non-existence in 1984. In view of this, we feel it is valuable to provide a description of the size and nature of this industry now. This will allow planning and will provide baseline data for future analyses. To achieve this, we conducted a survey of stingless bee keeping. We present, analyse and interpret these data from our perspective of close association with Australian stingless bees.

Survey Methodology

Survey forms, with postage paid envelopes, were sent to 1800 people. Names and addresses of these people were derived from two sources:

    • Our databases
    • Responses to a news story published in approximately 20 rural newspapers. The newspaper story resulted from a press release

A total of 298 responses were received between November 1998 and March 1999. We only considered responses where the colonies had been manipulated to some extent. Hence 41 responses that simply recorded the presence of a nest in a natural cavity that remained in situ were not included. We define people who manipulated a colony as ‘stingless beekeepers’ even though they may only have cut out a section of log that contained a colony and moved it to a safe position. We define ‘colonies’ as the bees and their nest materials, ‘nests’ as colonies in natural places and ‘hives’ as colonies in artificial wooden boxes.

We estimate that we received responses from over 50% of the stingless beekeepers that exist in Australia, but that we received responses from most of the larger stingless beekeepers and hence have information from a large proportion of the industry.

Survey Results

A total of 257 stingless beekeepers responded to the survey. They held a total 1429 colonies with the vast majority (82%) being in hives; the remainder were in logs and other natural cavities.

Hive Design

The majority (90%) of the 166 stingless beekeepers with hives used a similar hive design and splitting method. The hive is a simple rectangular box of about seven litres volume that divides horizontally into two equal parts. This design allows colony division by dividing the hive when it is full and coupling each full half with an empty new half.

The stingless beekeepers responding to this survey reported having made more than 1200 attempts to transfer a colony into a hive and over 800 attempts to split a hive to produce new hives. Very high rates of success for both these procedures were reported.

Species and Distribution

Only 60% of beekeepers attempted to give species identification for their colonies. The most common species kept in Australia were reported to be Trigona carbonaria (69%) and T. hockingsi (20%). Austraplebeia species, particularly A. australis but also A. symei, comprises c. 11% of reported colonies. These results are consistent with the relative natural abundance of these species in the areas where the beekeepers live.

The majority of stingless beekeepers (71%) and colonies (91%) were in the state of Queensland. The remainder were in New South Wales except for two in the Northern Territory and one in South Australia.

A total of 56% of hive sites used by stingless beekeepers were in suburban areas, 24% were on farmland and 20% were in natural bushland habitats. Many beekeepers kept their hives at more than one of these locations.

Characteristics of Stingless Beekeepers

More than 50% of stingless beekeepers kept only one colony. There were only nine beekeepers with more than 20 hives. Approximately 50% of beekeepers had three of less years of experience and the longest experience was 55 years.

Many stingless beekeepers had simply obtained their colonies in logs or hives and did nothing with them. Some of the reasons that they were reluctant to interfere with the hives included: unsuitable climate, unsuitable boxes, lack of inclination, lack of knowledge, bad early experience. Other stingless beekeepers had transferred their colonies from a natural cavity into a hive but had not yet split the resulting hive into daughter hives. Some had obtained hives and split them. Other, including most of the more experience beekeepers had engaged in all activities: obtaining colonies, transferring them into boxes and splitting the resulting hives. Of the 1168 colonies in boxes, 29% were obtained from splitting.

Stingless beekeepers kept their bees for many reasons. Enjoyment and conservation were the most important reasons with more commercial applications being less common motivations. The number of stingless beekeepers keeping hives for honey production and hive sales was small but these beekeepers kept relatively large number of hives for these purposes.

Stingless beekeepers were asked to predict how many hives they will have in five and ten years time. 188 stingless beekeepers now owning 1050 colonies expected to have 2495 colonies in five years (18% annual increase) and 84 stingless beekeepers now owning 763 colonies expected to have 2909 colonies in ten years (15% annual increase). These rates of increase are low compared to the rates experiences by the authors (30% annual increase).

Commercial Aspects

Sixty-two stingless beekeepers kept 317 colonies of stingless bees for pollination of crops. Most, but not all of these beekeepers were the growers of these crops. Approximately 20 crops were recorded as being subject to pollination by stingless bees. Macadamia was the most common crop species recorded. Some responses simply stated fruit or vegetables. These people either used their stingless bees for several plant species or did not have a clear idea which species are pollinated by the stingless bees. Some of the nominated crops are probably not insect pollinated, e.g. the wind pollinated maize and pecan. Some other crops are probably pollinated by insects other than stingless bees e.g. passionfruit, papaya, custard apply and tomato.

Twenty stingless beekeepers with 542 hives extracted honey from their hives. A total of only 90kg of honey was produced per year. A single producer dominated production. The price of this rare product is high, selling from approximately $A40 per kg wholesale to $A150 per kg.

Hives sales generated income for 13 stingless beekeepers who sold 103 hives per year. Prices are around $A200 per hive. Currently, much of the demand for hives comes from people wanting a hive for enjoyment.

Stingless bees mix propolis (resin collected from plants) with wax (a product of glands on the bee’s body) to form cerumen, their nest construction material. This cerumen was harvested by five stingless beekeepers with 29 hives who sold it for purposes such as aboriginal handcrafts and medicine.


Stingless beekeeping in Australia is emerging as a cottage industry that is currently tiny but with great potential. We suggest several reasons for the recent increase in interest in stingless beekeeping:

    • The realisation that stingless bees can be kept in hives and can be propagated.
    • The surge if interest in native food, ‘bush tucker’, including stingless bee honey.
    • The conservation issue of protecting native bee species from threats such as land clearing and competition from honey bees.
    • The affection and affinity that people feel for these attractive insects.

The vast majority of stinglee beekeepers used a similar hive design and splitting method. The hive is a simple wooden box of approximately seven litres in volume, 200mm wide, 250 mm high and 280mm long, that divides horizontally into two equal parts. This design allow colony division by dividing the hive when it is full and coupling each full half with an empty new half. Minor variations exist on this basic design but the idea of a box that splits evenly into two halves that form the nucleus for two daughter hives is predominant. We expect that this design will be modified, especially to allow for harvesting of honey.

Most stingless beekeeping was in coastal Queensland. This pattern is generated by the population distributions of bees and people. Stingless bees are more common in the north of the country. Coastal Queensland is the only part of north Australia heavily populated by people. Some areas rich in stingless bees, e.g. Northern Territory, have low human populations. The industry was primarily based on only three species: T. carbonaria, T. hockingsi and A. australis. There is potential for the development of other species in the north of the country where they occur.

Most stingless beekeepers had only one colony and kept it for less than three years. They had obtained a ready-made hive or log nest and had not done any colony transfers or hive splitting. This patters exemplifies the novelty of stingless beekeeping in Australia. Many of these people will develop their skills, although some had no desire to do so. The pattern of keeping most hives in suburban areas reflects the interest that some urban Australians have in these insects. To many, keeping stingless bees presents an opportunity to be involved in nature conservation.

The current and predicted annual growth rate is approximately 30%. At this growth rate, 24,000 colonies would be domesticated by the year 2010 and 320,000 by the year 2020. By comparison, there are currently about 700,000 honey bee hives in Australia. The major commercial uses for these stingless beehives will be in crop pollination and honey production, but hive sales and cerumen production may provide other forms of income for stingless beekeepers.

The growth rate will decline at some point and the size of the industry will stabilise. The point at which this occurs cannot be predicted at this point. If the industry stabilised at 500,000 hives, and if a large proportion of these were used for crop pollination, this would provide a significant boost to horticulture. For example, hives could be used for the macadamia nut industry. Assuming that 20 hives per hectare were used and that half of Australia’s orchards, or 10,000 hectares, are pollinator limited, then the industry could benefit from the introduction of 200,000 hives during flowering. The annual crop pollination services of honey bees has been estimated at $A1.2 billion. Stingless bees could contribute to a substantial proportion of this. Other horticultural industries, e.g. mango and avocado, would also benefit. The diversification of crop pollination services away from almost total reliance on honey bees by the introduction of stingless bees would be a prudent measure given the problems with pests and diseases that honey bees face.

Research is needed in several areas in order to make stingless beekeeping a commercial reality. The suitability of these bees for pollination of specific crops needs much research. Many aspects of honey production, including extraction and processing need more understanding. The fighting swarms of Australia Trigona species need to be understood and managed. Education is also needed to train the next generation of stingless beekeepers.

Tim A Heard – CSIRO Entomology, Indooroopilly, Qld

Anne E. Dollin – Australian Native Bee Research Centre, North Richmond, NSW

Apimondia 2005

During the month of February, Mr Asger Jorgensen, Chairman of Apimondia, accompanied by his wife, visited Australia. During their visit they met with beekeepers in Victoria and New South Wales and were entertained in Sydney by members of the Apimondia 2005 Committee. They visited various tourist venues and, following a guided tour of the Opera House, attended the Playhouse Theatre to see a comedy The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). From all reports, Mr Jorgensen and his wife enjoyed their trip to Australia and AHBIC would like to put on record our thanks to those who participated in making their visit a success.

Overall, the impression was that Melbourne has a good chance of hosting Apimondia in 2005. It will be up to the Melbourne Convention Centre to have a good presentation for the Apimondia Executive and for us to make a good impression at Apimondia at Durban later this year.



To be held at the Airport Motel and Convention Centre

33 Ardlie Street, Attwood, Victoria

on Sunday 18th March 2001.

A Media Training Day will be held

on Saturday 17th March, 2001 at the same venue

Agenda papers will be forwarded to delegates in the near future

Dollar Boost to Exports

Exports of merchandise rose a solid 9.9% in the December quarter, boosted by the attractiveness of the lower Australian dollar. Merchandise imports rose about 3.5%

Exports of crude oil, wool and milk and cream products rose substantially, while imports of crude oil, aircraft, telecommunications equipment and clothing also climbed.

Total merchandise exports rose to $31,369 billion, just shy of the $31,376 billion in imports of merchandise.

Protect Australian Livestock Week

AHBIC again will take part in the Protect Australia Livestock Week organised by Animal Health Australia from Sunday March 25 to Saturday March 31, 2001.

Representatives of industry will be available during this time for media contact and the following press release has been included in the documentation for presentation.

Australia has the best disease free status in the world. If we lower our guard, we not only put at risk our $65 million honey bee industry, but we also put at risk the whole of Australia’s agricultural and grazing industries.

One third of the foods in our diet need pollination and honey bees provide the best pollination service.

Laurie Dewar


Australian Honey Bee Industry Council


Crop Report – South Australia

The long stretch of hot weather building up to extreme heat has taken is toll on bees. There have been reports of general hive strength diminishing, hives melting down and the loss of an entire apiary.

South East: The lucerne has finished, with a good seed set in the pollination contracted lucerne crops, but the honey yield was poor. The bees are breeding well in pockets despite severe heat conditions and lack of sufficient nectar. The last heat wave as well as the dry conditions, prematurely finished the lucerne flowering. Prospects: Some beekeepers are looking in the lower south east and into Victoria at stringy bark. Potato weed prospects are unlikely as this resource is badly heat affected. Badly need rain for banksia development. Some banksia sites are already showing signs of moisture stress.

Riverland: Rain just received. Time will tell if ground flora resources respond.

Northern – Lower: A very poor lucerne season. River box yielded. Euc. socialis yielded, but patchy. Heat and weavils have affected tea tree which is patchy this year. Prospects: Some peppermint has budded up.

Northern – Upper: Generally very dry conditions except for isolated areas which received a thunderstorm which brought on some potato weed. Some grey box about to break but requires rain for a chance of useful prospects.

West Coast – Lower: Tea tree has finished, the heat shortening the flow. Talka fire (near Port Lincoln) depleted some regular tea tree sites. Fortunately no hives were lost; due to poor flowering bees were not in situ. Prospects: Some peppermint budded, patchy and most still showing signs of stress from two years of lerp. If good rains, lincoln weed could still produce before winter. Average production to date.

Kangaroo Island: The sugar gum season is well under way now with initial flowering appearing. Cup gum is looking promising with heavy budding on many sites although it is likely that autumn rains will be needed to encourage a nectar flow. Beekeepers must be hoping to recover from the disappointment of the late spring when several crops appeared promising only to dry out in the seasonal conditions.

Central: Off year for stringy bark; patches of cup gum (Euc. Cosmophylla). There has been a lack of rain for summer ground flora pollens.

Barossa: Peppermint has a light budding. Because the grape growing area is now so large, it is restrictive in where bees can be placed during the vintage period.

Kay Lambert

Crop Report – New South Wales

Red stringy bark is yielding very well in the central west of the state. With a lot of bud still to flower, the flow should continue for another four to five weeks.

Mugga iron bark is budded in the central west and also some good bud on the south west slopes.

Napunyah is looking very good in the north west and beekeepers are looking forward to a good crop over winter and into spring.

Stock Report – New South Wales

Honey is still in very short supply but with red stringy bark yielding this should help the honey situation. Light honey will be very short before spring.


I was saddened to hear of the passing of Lyle Graham, a very well liked packer for many years. Lyle was a real gentleman and was well respected by all who knew him.

Eddie Podmore

Quarantine Report

Alleged illegal importation case

The case was set down for 20 February, 2001. It has now been adjourned until 20th March, 2001. AHBIC notes industry interest in this case from members and also the media, however, as the matter is still sub judice we will not be making any comment until after the case is heard.

Port surveillance

Beekeepers often ask how the port surveillance program is progressing. I recently sent a series of questions out to the members of the Quarantine Sub-committee. I will summarise the answers in my next report.


It was reported in the last newsletter that a swarm had been found in Melbourne ports area.

AQIS have advised me that there were no mites found on the bees from that swarm. Good news. It is most likely that it was a local swarm but we cannot afford to be complacent.

Varroa preparedness workshop

AQIS have been in contact in relation to holding a workshop on the above subject. AHBIC is happy for this to proceed and details will be sent out soon. There will be delegates from New Zealand who will give some insights into the experience in this matter in New Zealand.

Varroa in New Zealand

With varroa now well established in the North Island of New Zealand, I have been keeping up to date with their media coverage on this matter.

Long term measures for managing the impact of varroa are being discussed. There is $7.6 million package in place for measures to limit the impact of varroa. New Zealand is also looking at a range of options for the long term response once the current programme ends.

The group plans to meet again in March.

Trevor Weatherhead

Crop Report and Stock Position - Queensland

Weather conditions continue to play a critical role in the potential for honey crops in Queensland.

Recent rains will need to be supported by further good falls to ensure a crop in spring and summer. Long range weather forecasts indicate a possible return to El-Nino weather conditions. Hopefully this is wrong as honey producers could not stand another poor season. However, on the bright side reports indicate that there is a general budding over a wide area of the south east of Queensland over such species as Blue Gum, Gum Top Box, Grey Ironbark, Narrow Leaved Ironbark and Yellow Stringybark. Reports from other states indicate similar prospects following recent rain.

Brush Box yielded in places with excellent colour and density being recorded. Yapunyah is rumoured to be budding nicely with potential for a winter crop. White Box and Caleys Ironbark will be closely watched. We still remember that year the picture was similar and the crop failed. As a result it would be unwise to forecast more than an average crop. In the meantime beekeepers will be concentrating on maintaining their hives.

Very little honey has been produced in Queensland this season with the obvious result that stocks are low.

Bill Winner

Crop Report – Victoria

The hot, dry summer which settled in following the humid wet spring extended until early February when severe thunderstorm activity across most of the state broke up the weather pattern. Cool, dewy nights have followed and are an early sign that autumn is not far away.

The heat of December/January (up to 46 degrees in some part of the state) and the need for beekeepers to keep their hives in good condition for autumn prospects with limited floral resources available, was a considerable challenge for some.

Apiaries were widely dispersed throughout Victoria and interstate, seeking out bits and pieces of buddings of eucalypt species as well as clover in irrigation districts. The best reported yields over the period came from black box in the southern Riverina and south western New South Wales. Small quantities of yellow box, red gum, Christmas mallee and clover were produced. More recently, small patches of early flowering iron bark have been yielding well.

Most commercial apiaries have now moved to red string bark, which is yielding. Heavy thunderstorms, up to five inches (125mm) in place, just as the species was breaking, have ensured a good light honey will be produced. A sizeable crop also looks a certainty.

Grey box in the flat country is starting to break. The budding is not general across the state, but it remains a modest prospect for March/April. Against all the odds, the short budding yellow gum has again budded and given a long Indian summer through April and May, may do something this side of winter.

Linton Briggs

Crop Report – Tasmania

Leatherwood trees throughout the western area of Tasmania flowered exceptionally well this season.

The weather has, as always, played a major part in honey production. Early flowering and early beekeepers fared well. All commercial hives were on site by the end of January. Rain and cool weather prevailed for a vital week of production.

Fortunately it became hot again and the later flowering trees began to yield. In mid-February the weather broke again on the west coast. The last week in Tasmania has been extremely warm. The net result will be a slightly better than average production year.

Inquiries for prepaks continue and hold promise of good sales. Ground Flora – Inquiries continue and a sale has been made overseas for bulk honey. Only a light crop produced so should not be hard to sell as the eastern states struggle to produce.

Shirley Stephens