The thought of bees may invoke images of brightly coloured swarms intent on stinging whoever is in the way. Yet the buzz around bees is not all it's made out to be. Many bees, in fact, don't even have stings. 

The sting is really in what is happening to bee populations. Many countries around the world are reporting large losses of bee colonies due to many factors including pesticides, global warming, and the effects of modern agriculture. Australian bees are faring slightly better than European and American bees overall although it is difficult to be conclusive as we still do not have systematic surveying in place.  

Australia is home to over 1,500 different species of native bees, eleven of which don’t have stings. If you want to promote native wildlife and nature but don’t want to risk being stung, you may wish to consider getting a hive of native stingless bees. A hive stocked with native stingless bees costs approximately $550 and up to $100 in postage depending on where you live. For more information, check out the links below.

The majority of native Australian bees are solitary and don’t store any honey, however all of the stingless bees are social in nature and form hives in which they produce and store honey. These hives are structured in a similar way to that of European bees with a queen, hundreds of sterile female worker bees and some male bees. The majority of native stingless bees are predominantly black in colour and occasionally have small splashes of colour. Native stingless bees are smaller than their European cousins and are usually around 4mm long. 

Native stingless bees produce smaller quantities of honey than their European cousins. Some apiarists recommend against harvesting the honey if the hive is located in cooler climates with differing opinions on demarcation lines. Apiarist Dan Smailes contends that it is possible to cultivate honey from stingless bees in Sydney with several provisos.  One of the most important factors is to know your hive well, and know how mature it is before attempting to harvest any honey. Smailes states that once the hive becomes mature, which is between one to two years, it is usually safe to harvest the honey and depending on the size of the colony can be harvested annually or bi-annually. 

These bees are usually found in warm, wet parts of Australia such as the Northern Territory, Queensland, northern parts of Western Australia and northern parts of NSW.  In southern parts of the NSW coast the bees tend to survive better in logs than in boxes due to increased insulation from the log.

Native stingless bees nest in hollow trees or tree logs when in natural nests, which can form an attractive garden piece. Man-made nests can be made or purchased at various apiary supply stores. However, if you have a native stingless bee hive in your garden or on your property, it is important to seal up any breaks in the hive apart from the hive entrance as this helps the bees defend their nest against any attacking insect.

The hives should be located in warm parts of the garden that get the morning sun and are sheltered from strong winds. The bees will feed on the pollen and nectar of most native or non-native plant species in your garden which will help your garden to thrive as well. 

For more information on native bees, where to source hives and how look after them properly, check out  these informative sites on native bees: