Science

Stingless Spiral Bees Form Fascinating and Unique Hives

While the majority of people associate bees with painful stings, National Geographic reports that there is a unique species of stingless spiral bees that are closely related to traditional honey bees.

stingless spiral bees
Image source: YouTube Video Screenshot

Stingless Spiral Bee Hives

Honey is delicious, but it serves an important purpose for bees. As a thick and nutritious substance made from the nectar of flowering plants, bees produce and store honey in order to eat when other food is scarce. Many people don’t think about it, but all the honey we eat comes from one place: beehives.

While stingless spiral bees are related to species like the honeybee, carpenter bee, orchid bee, and bumblebee, they have a unique hierarchy based off of how much pollen each individual bee consumes.

As a highly social species, the stingless spiral bees feature one queen to thousands of worker bees. The majority of these bees are found in tropical habitats along the northern and eastern parts of Australia, where they build their spiral hives.

The stingless spiral bees generally make their nests in hollow trunks, tree branches, and rock crevices – and in some cases, manmade cavities. For commercial farming, honeybees are kept in basic boxes layered with removable screens, but stingless spiral bees have different nesting requirements.

Stingless spiral bees store their pollen and honey in honeycomb cells, which are made by chewing wax and bonding it into little pots. The ways in which the spiral hives are arranged vary between species, but for this specific stingless bee, the hives climb upwards in spirals.

Appearance

As far as the appearance of Australian stingless spiral bees go, they appear black with white fur on their faces rather than the black and yellow we traditionally think of when it comes to everyday bees. They’re also incredibly small, measuring just one-sixth of an inch. Although the bees are related to honeybees, the amount of honey they produce is quite low – often amounting to less than four cups from a single hive each year.

Honey

The taste of stingless spiral bee honey is rather unique. The honey has a high concentration of water, which leads it to ferment quicker.

“The stingless bee honey really wins in terms of having a more floral taste…For function and taste, stingless bee honey is just as good as honeybee honey.” said Claus Rasmussen, a bee expert and an assistant professor of biology at Denmark’s Aarhus University, in an interview with National Geographic.

Defenses

With no ability to sting, the ability to defend themselves against predators has been a concern. However, stingless spiral bees do have the ability to bite, which actually may be a better adaptation.

“It’s probably more efficient being able to bite than to sting…some of the species are much more docile,” Rasmussen says.

While the first bee that comes to mind is often the honey or bumblebee, the stingless spiral honeybee is a unique species that produces some seriously delicious honey. While it’s difficult to obtain a large amount due to the low production output of a single hive, some farms feature multiple of the spiral constructions in order to further the development and production of this fascinating bee.