Tiny Tetragonula carbonaria bees don’t sting but fight by biting a combatant and not letting go
Tobias Smith/Univ. of Queensland
Tiny bees that couldn’t sting if their hives depended on it have revealed a new side of apian violence.
Little Tetragonula bees belong to the same family as honeybees but don’t have stingers. “They’re about the size of large ants — but much cuter,” says Paul Cunningham of Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. In that region of Australia, two stingless bee species, T. hockingsi and T. carbonaria, thrive in backyard hives.
Hobbyists keep the two native pollinator species as pets — they’re good with children — and for their honey. It’s “very tangy and citrusy,” Cunningham says. Yet he and his colleagues now report that their endearing little neighbors are the first bees known to stage massive, days-long, high-casualty battles taking over nests of another bee species.