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Meet: Tim Heard, native bee expert

Photo - Jane Ogilvie

Tim is an entomologist working in the area of using native insects to control weed populations. Here we talk to him about his passion for native bees.

Proliferating stingless native bees is your hobby, what’s your day job?

I’m an entomologist with CSIRO, working in the area of using native insects to control weed populations in the rangelands of subtropical Australia.


So how did you become a native bee expert?

I was doing a study on pollination of macadamias in south-eastern Queensland and northern NSW. The major pollinator is the native stingless bee. I decided to try to hive them.


What happened next?

The bees became my passion. It’s an addiction that has dominated my life, and certainly my weekends. My wife calls herself a bee widow. I take weekend workshops, field probably 50 phone calls and emails a week, and sell the hives. The bees are intrinsically fascinating creatures.


In what way?

Primarily because of the social aspect of their lives, which we can identify with. When you open up a beehive and look in, there’s this thing that resembles a human city – they are all working together for a common good. There’s a division of labour and they all take a small role in producing something that is large and complex and beautiful.


Photo - Jane Ogilvie

We hear a lot about threats to honeybee populations, are native bees also at risk?

Not from the same pests and diseases as honeybees. In the subtropical humid areas where I live honeybee populations have crashed. There is not anywhere near the number there was and they are more difficult to keep now because of the difficulties posed by the small hive beetle. Keeping stingless bees is easier than keeping honeybees – they don’t have the same pests and diseases and they don’t sting!


You collect the honey, which is called sugarbag, from the hives. Does sugarbag have the same consistency as honey?

No, sugarbag is quite different. It’s runnier because it has less sugar than honeybee honey. It’s also acidic, with a lemony-bitey flavour, as well as the aromas and tastes of the Aussie bush. It’s quite a subtle and exquisite flavour. It’s great as a topping on ice cream, or in a salad dressing.


Photo - Jane Ogilvie

Can you get sugarbag without a hive?

It’s difficult: at the moment most people are focusing on building populations of hives rather than collecting honey. What the world needs now is more hives to make up for potential shortfall of honeybees for pollination.


So how should people get hold of a hive?

The best thing is to look at which lists all the breeders. One warning though – this is a hobby for those in the subtropics. The bees won’t survive south of Nowra or too far away from the coast.


For more on native stingless bees, visit Tim’s website, www.

Text: Robin Powell

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Author: Robin Powell