Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps


Compiler and date details

September 2012 - Ken Walker, Museum Victoria

30 March 2006 - Updated and revised by Ken L. Walker, Museum Victoria, 11 Nicholson St, Carlton, Victoria, Australia

1993 - J.C. Cardale, CSIRO Division of Entomology, Canberra, Australia


The Apidae are a family of long-tongued bees that include: highly social bees that live in large colonies, with morphologically differentiated female castes (Michener 1974); primitively social bees that feed their young progressively; solitary bees that mass-provision the brood cells and leave the larvae to develop unattended; and parasitic bees, both social parasites and cleptoparasites ('cuckoo bees').

The family is divided into three subfamilies, the Apinae, the Nomadinae and the Xylocopinae.

The largest subfamily, Apinae, is further divided into 19 tribes, of which four, Anthophorini, Ctenoplectrini, Melectini and Meliponini, occur naturally in Australiia. Two other tribes, Apini and Bombini are represented by introduced species, Apis mellifera, the European honeybee and the bumblebee Bombus terrestris. The first introductions of bumblebees into Australia, to aid in the pollination of introduced plants, were unsuccessful (Young 1967). In 1992, however, an established population of Bombus terrestris was discovered in Tasmania.

Meliponini are small (3-5 mm) native honeybees. They are also called stingless bees or sugar bag bees (Michener 1965, 1990). The tribe occurs in tropical and southern subtropical areas throughout the world. In Australia, they are found mainly in the north and only two species occur as far southwards as the Sydney area (Wagner & Briscoe 1983; Dollin & Dollin 1986). Adults nest in pre-existing cavities such as tree hollows, crevices among rocks or in managed hives (Michener 1961; Wille 1983; Heard 1988). The nests are constructed from cerumen, a mixture of secreted wax and resin (Milborrow et al. 1987). Flower-visiting records are given in Michener (1965) and Armstrong (1979).

The Anthophorini are medium to large (8-20 mm) robust bees and include the well-known blue-banded bees, and the Melectini are cuckoo bees that parasitise nests of the Anthophorini. A single species from the tribe Ctenoplectrini is found in North Queensland.

The subfamily Nomadinae is represented in Australia by a single cleptoparasitic genus Nomada that occurs in coastal Queensland.

The subfamily Xylocpinae in Australia is represented by three tribes. The Xlyocopini are large, robust bees whereas the Allodapini and Ceratini are small, slender bees.

Engel (1999) discussed the taxonomy of fossil and recent Apis and Da Cunha (1994) studied phenetic relationships among Old World Trigonini.


General References

Armstrong, J.A. 1979. Biotic pollination mechanisms in the Australian flora—a review. New Zealand Journal of Botany 17: 467-508 [Date published 31/12/1979]

da Cunha, R.A. 1994. Estudo fenético supra-especifico de Trigonini do velho mundo (Hymenoptera, Apidae). Revista Brasileira de Entomologia 38(3/4): 613-626

Dollin, A. & Dollin, L. 1986. Tracing aboriginal apiculture of Australian native bees in the far north-west. Australasian Beekeeper 88: 118-122 [Date published 31/12/1986]

Engel, M.S. 1999. The taxonomy of recent and fossil honey bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae; Apis). Journal of Hymenoptera Research 8(2): 165-196 [Date published Oct. 1999]

Heard, T.A. 1988. Propagation of hives of Trigona carbonaria Smith (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Journal of the Australian Entomological Society 27: 303-304 [Date published 31/12/1988]

Michener, C.D. 1961. Observations on the nests and behavior of Trigona in Australia and New Guinea (Hymenoptera, Apidae). American Museum Novitates 2026: 1-46 [Date published 31/12/1961]

Michener, C.D. 1965. A classification of the bees of the Australian and South Pacific regions. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 130: 1-362 [Date published 31/12/1965]

Michener, C.D. 1974. The Social Behaviour of the Bees. A comparative study. Cambridge : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 404 pp. [Date published 31/12/1974]

Michener, C.D. 1979. Biogeography of the bees. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Gardens 66: 277-347 [Date published 31/12/1979]

Michener, C.D. 1990. Classification of the Apidae (Hymenoptera). University of Kansas Science Bulletin 54: 75-164 [Date published 31/12/1990]

Michener, C.D. 2000. The Bees of the World. Baltimore, Maryland : Johns Hopkins University Press 913 pp.

Michener, C.D., Winston, M.L. & Jander, R. 1978. Pollen manipulation and related activities and structures in bees of the family Apidae. University of Kansas Science Bulletin 51: 575-601 [Date published 31/12/1978]

Milborrow, B.V., Kennedy, J.M. & Dollin A. 1987. Composition of wax made by the Australian stingless bee Trigona australis. Australian Journal of Biological Sciences 40: 15-25 [Date published 31/12/1987]

Rhodes, J.W. (ed.) 1988. Bee Keeping in the Year 2000. Second Australian and International Beekeeping Congress. Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. July 21–26, 1988. Brisbane : Dept Primary Industries 288 pp.

Ruttner, F. 1976. Isolated populations of honeybees in Australia. 97-104 pp.

Ruttner, F. 1987. Biogeography and Taxonomy of Honeybees. Berlin : Springer 284 pp. [Date published 31/12/1987]

Wagner, A.E. & Briscoe, D.A. 1983. An absence of enzyme variability within two species of Trigona (Hymenoptera). Heredity 50: 97-103 [Date published 31/12/1983]

Wille, A. 1983. Biology of the stingless bees. Annual Review of Entomology 28: 41-64 [Date published 31/12/1983]

Winston, M.L. 1987. The Biology of the Honey Bee. Cambridge : Harvard University Press 281 pp. [Date published 31/12/1987]

Young, L. 1967. The Melody Lingers On. Biography of Tarlton Rayment. Melbourne : Hawthorne Press 123 pp. [Date published 31/12/1967]


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
26-Jun-2023 APIFORMES 26-Jun-2023 MODIFIED Dr Ken Walker (NMV)
31-Jul-2018 APIDAE 01-Mar-2023 MODIFIED
22-Oct-2015 APOIDEA (s. l.) 26-Jun-2023 MODIFIED
22-Oct-2015 26-Jun-2023 MODIFIED
07-Aug-2012 07-Aug-2012 MODIFIED
12-Feb-2010 (import)