Australian Stingless Bees Build These Spiral Hives That Is Baffling Scientists


Things or places about which we have a very little or less knowledge always attract our interest. This is probably because they are mostly things that are existing or occurring around us. A good example of it comes from Tom Heard, an entomologist in Australia. He has been talking about sugar bag honey bees for quite some time now. Hears ha also ben working with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, which is based in Canberra. He started documenting these bees over thirty years ago.

Heard aimed to educate the public and for that matter, he created a website which provided the visitors all the information they needed to learn about the stingless bees. According to Heard, these bees are highly social insects that have one queen and a thousand worker bees who live together in a protected place. Usually, that place is a hollow tree. He said that the bees, “inhabit the northern parts of Australia, although on the east coast they reach a bit further south than Sydney[, and occur in other tropical parts of the world[, while t]he Australian species are much smaller than European honey bees.”

Apart from their biological classification and providing information about their size and habitat, Heard talked about the most interesting aspect of the bees life which is the shape of the hive that they build. The hive is different than the shape of other hives built by other bees.

The hive built by stingless bees has an intricate, clockwise spiral design. There is only a single entrance to each hive. Each hive is coated with a pathogen-blocking sticky layer. It is an extra layer for the defense of the bees since these bees do not have a sting but they can bite with their jaws. Heard has 400 hives at a time and says that the shape is most likely created out of necessity to protect the integrity of the hive. He said, “What we’re looking at is the advancing front of a stingless bee colony. In the middle of the spiral, you have to construct cells that move with the change.”

There is also the opinion of other scientists that this shape is for the circulation of air inside the hive. Heard has discussed the best ways to raise and cultivate bees on your own in his book The Native Bee Book: Keeping Stingless Bee Hives for Pets, Pollination, and Sugarbag Honey. In the book, he has also discussed in detail about dividing, transporting and maintaining hives. The stories with most gravity are those in which the life of one person becomes their life’s work. There are very few who can achieve that vision and purpose and Heard is indeed among those.

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