Australian Stingless bees: creators of the world’s most complex honeycombs

Recently, some social networks have uploaded videos that are quite curious about some honeycombs that are considered «strange». To some, they seem beautiful, while others find them disturbing, with some even likening them to an «alien nest». Who is responsible for these honeycombs? It’s the «Tetragonula hockingsi», the stingless bees native to Australia.

Research on this Australian species has shown that they build the most complex honeycombs without a prior work plan or coordination in the colony.

The Honeycombs of Australian Stingless Bees

Australian stingless bees: creators of the world’s most complex honeycombs
The formation of strange honeycombs have gone viral on social media. Credit: HowThingsWork/Twitter.

Tetragonula hockingsi is a tropical and subtropical bee species that inhabits coastal areas of Queensland and part of Australia’s Northern Territory. Its population is between 20% to 50% larger than the typical Tetragonula carbonaria.

One of its main features is that they are bees without stings; additionally, they have the ability to handle heat and defend their nest. The breeding structure, particularly in northern populations, is more porous, allowing air to flow and cool. In large cavities such as water meter boxes, where they sometimes nest, hocks often have an empty area near the calf, which allows greater airflow when it is hot.

This species also uses less involucre to surround the breeding area. For most of the year, the top of the calf has no coverage of the involucre. Besides aiding ventilation and heat control, this is an advantage for amateur beekeepers, as it allows them to see the queen laying eggs and hatching bees.

Defending the Nest

These stingless bees have been observed defending their nest much more vigorously than their counterparts, the carbonaria. They can easily harass and drive away pests. The disadvantage of this is that when a hive is opened to perform a division or extract honey, they usually bite more, so it is necessary to use mosquito nets to deal with them.

Genetic studies of this species have also identified two populations within this species. For example, in Mackay, there is a hybrid zone, with a northern type above and a southern type below. Here, this bee presents hybrid offspring, the result of crossing with the Tetragonula carbonaria and the Tetragonula davenporti.

These stingless bees were named after Harold Joseph Hockings, who first described them in 1884, using their Aboriginal name.

Australian stingless bees have left everyone amazed, even going viral on social media. Their strange patterns and creation of honeycombs arouse curiosity and amazement among users.


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