There are many species of native bee in Australia. Most are solitary bees that raise their young in the ground or in hollowed timber. We have ten species of social bees native to Australia that do not sting!
Honeybees are part of the family apidae, the most recognizable example of which is the European Honeybee. These bees were introduced to Australia for honey and crop pollination. Not surprisingly, feral colonies are now established in most parts of the country.
The European Bumblebee has not yet been found on the Australian mainland but feral colonies have spread to New Zealand and Tasmania. Bumblebees are considered superior pollinators to their Honeybee cousins. It is suspected that the entire Tasmanian population is descended from a single fertilised queen.
Honeybees are social insects that live in colonies called hives consisting of a queen, drones and worker bees.
Bees are almost totally deaf and rely mostly on their sense of touch. In a single colony there can be as few as 5,000 or as many as 100,000. After mating, the queen lays up to 3,000 eggs per day. Worker bees are always female. Their roles are varied and include foraging, fending off predators, feeding other bees and larvae, ‘house’ cleaning of cells and clustering to create beeswax.
Bees can sting to defend themselves, their hive or their young. Unlike wasps, the bee dies after stinging. The abdomen continues to pump poison after the initial sting which should be removed. Some people are allergic to bee stings.
Swarming occurs when a new queen leaves the hive, followed by the drones. She will mate with up to twenty drones which will give her enough sperm to last her lifetime (about two years). The queen may return to the hive and replace the old queen, but sometimes she will fly away with a number of worker bees to form a new colony or swarm.
Bees are not considered aggressive during swarming but caution still needs to be exercised around a swarm.
Swarms may be present for as little as 15 minutes or as long as three days. Usually, the swarm will move on to another site.