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6 March 2007

Native Bees

Researchers are just beginning to learn more about the potential for Australian native bees.

TIM HEARD: There are about 1,500 different species of native bees described in this country. But the actual figure may be twice that high. There may be about 3,000 species. 1,500 or so are just waiting to be described. The vast majority of Australian native bees are solitary insects. They just go about their life like a beetle or a butterfly. They don't really have a social life with others of their same species, whereas our native Australian stingless bees live in colonies of many thousands of individuals that work together.

SEAN MURPHY: A potential threat to Australia's insect biodiversity comes from the European bumble bee. Their so-called buzz pollination can double yields for greenhouse-grown produce, and although found in Tasmania, applications to import them to the mainland have been rejected by the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service.

TIM HEARD: European bumble bees have been introduced into other parts of the world and in many of those countries they've become invasive pest insects. They've left the enclosures in which they were introduced and formed natural populations in the wild, and these populations have a lot of potential to compete negatively with our native bee fauna.

SEAN MURPHY: For now, a more immediate concern to native bee numbers is land clearing. At Coffs Harbour on the mid-north coast of NSW, Will Archer has collected about 50 native bee nests from loggers.

WILL ARCHER: If we had have left this in this log any longer, this nest probably would have died because it's so waterlogged and it's starting to get mould in it.

SEAN MURPHY: The 24-year-old is trying to collect enough stingless bees to harvest commercial quantities of their honey. In the wild their fragile nests are easily damaged but he's developed an artificial hive, which can be harvested without affecting the bee brood.

WILL ARCHER: The features of my design, there's three sections to it. There's the two bottom sections, which is the brood and in that is all their eggs and enough honey and pollen to survive through the winter. On top there's a separate super and once they've filled up their brood and they have enough stores to survive winter, they put their excess in the top and you can just lift that off without damaging the nest structure at all and harvest that honey.

SEAN MURPHY: Will Archer's design earned him $25,000 in a national small business competition and he wants to use the money to tap into pollination and native honey markets.

WILL ARCHER: Both are native stingless bee honey. One is a more mature one - this darker one is much older and this one here is one I got out of my hives the other day. It has a bit of pollen mixed in with it - it hasn't had time to settle yet.

SEAN MURPHY: Beekeeper and honey retailer Jeff Daley believes the honey, or sugarbag as it's known, has huge potential.

JEFF DALEY: Beautiful aroma. The aroma has got a lot to do with flavour. The nose tells us what our tastebuds like. Very sweet. With a lot of pollen in it, it should have a lot of good properties to help out the human body.

SEAN MURPHY: What sort of potential do you think it will have in the marketplace?

JEFF DALEY: I think it will have very good potential. It's a niche market of its own. It's Australia's own native bee. No-one else in the world has it, so I reckon we've got a really good product that we can get out there.

SEAN MURPHY: The problem will be coming up with enough supply as native bee hives only produce about a kilogram of honey a year, compared to an average of 75 kilograms for European honey bees. Besides a unique tangy flavour, Sugarbag may also have medicinal benefits.

TIM HEARD: There's been very few studies done on the medicinal benefits of native bee honey. However all around the world where stingless bees are kept, native peoples use that honey for medicinal purposes. So it's likely there is some medicinal use of this honey.

story notes

To harvest means to gather crops when they’re ready.

 commercial quantities
A commercial quantity means an amount large enough to sell.

A nest is a place where a birds or insects live.

 artificial hive
A hive is place where bees live. An artificial hive is the opposite of a natural hive. It’s a hive made by people, not bees.

A brood is a family, a group of birds or insects.

Known is the past participle of the irregular verb know. Follow the link below to find out more and to listen to some examples.
more information: know

pleasant smell

Pollen is the powdery substance from plants that bees collect.

 good properties
Good properties are good qualities.

Its is a possessive adjective and does not have an apostrophe. The apostrophe is used for it is, which you can see in the next sentence.

It's is the contracted from of it is. Follow the link below for more information.
more information: its & it's