There are fourteen species of stingless bees that are native to Australia. Among these, the sugar sack bee or bush bee is particularly notable for the beautiful hives they make.
Not all bees sting. There are around five hundred species of bees out of every twenty thousand that have lost this ability, but exhibit other defensive behaviors such as biting or showering intruders with wax, plant resin, and mud. Larger predators are often engulfed by the force of their numbers.
Tetragonula carbonaria, or the sugar sac bee, tends to be smaller in size compared to other stingless bees. They are predominantly black and their bodies are covered in microscopic hairs. The sugar sack bee builds hives in a distinctive spiral pattern unique to the species. The hives are wide and flat, but each spiral rises in height as they rotate, giving the hive a flattened conical shape. A fully developed nest can have up to twenty coils.
Carbonaria beehives have a single entrance, which is heavily protected by guardian bees and covered with a mixture of beeswax and resins. The antibacterial properties of the resin cleanse any pathogens from the bees when they enter the hive. The substance also keeps predators like ants and beetles away.
It is not known why the sugar sack bee makes spiral hives. It may be to improve air circulation, especially since other bee colonies are not well ventilated.
"It may be reckless to try to explain the adaptive importance of why this form may have evolved," Tim Heard, an entomologist, told Live Science. “Maybe it's just the result of some random behavior or maybe it's adaptive. A possible adaptive advantage of this form is that it is an efficient use of space and also facilitates air circulation between the layers. But then one has to wonder why it is not more common. "
Because stingless bees cannot sting, many Australian suburban homes have these hives in their backyard. Many of these beekeepers do not keep bees for honey, but for the pleasure of conserving a native species whose original habitat is declining due to human development. In return, bees pollinate crops, garden flowers, and bushes as they search for nectar and pollen.
Tetragonula carbonaria, or the sugar sac bee is predominantly black. Photo Credit: Graham Wise / Flickr
The beehive of the sugar bag. Photo credit: eyeweed / Flickr
Photo Credit: Stephan Ridgway / Flickr
Photo Credit: NaturelsWeird / Twitter
Photo credit: Nat Geo
Photo Credit: Sugarbag Bees / Facebook