As announced earlier in the year, PNG Biomass has explored the potential to trial a native bee community programme called “Switpela Bi Hani” in its project area in the Markham Valley.

In April we engaged meliponist Matthew Middleton and hive-design engineer Edi Reuss from Beezotted to implement our one-year “Switpela Bi Hani” pilot native bee programme. During a first visit in late April to the project area, the Beezotted team explored the Markham Valley to identify native bee species, locate beehives, conduct awareness workshops, and train community in beehive construction from locally available resources.

Upon arrival, they first examined a tree near the PNG Biomass office where our team had found an Austroplebia cincta hive, which they had transferred to create the first two PNG Biomass hives. In the vicinity of the tree they soon discovered 14 hives with possibly a combination of Austroplebia cincta, Tetragonula clypearis and Tetragonula sapiens. On a subsequent examination, they found another 15 hives on the estate, all within a few hundred metres of each other. Matthew was excited by this early discovery and noted that “This is one of the highest concentrations of hives I have seen in my 30 years working with stingless bees across Australia”. During the first field visit, Beezotted identified a total of 34 stingless bee hives.

Beezotted believes to have identified three species of native bees, which will be confirmed through DNA testing later in the year:

  • Tetragonula clypearis has a nest volume of 4 litres, suited to be boxed in mini-oaths or similar. Found generally in Asia and Northern QLD.
  • Tetragonula sapiens is commonly nesting in concrete block walls or 4 litre sized hives. Found generally in Asia and Northern QLD.
  • Austroplebia cincta “AC”. The only specimens of cincta worker bees in Australian museums are old, with no male specimen held by any museum in the world. AC are only documented in two locations in northern QLD. They may never have been boxed before (to be verified.)

In addition, solitary bees were identified, including Blue banded, Carpenter, Leaf cutter and Cuckoo bees. All the identified species (native and solitary) will be included on a local Markham Valley Switpela Bi Hani bee poster, which will be developed during the programme.

The team from Beezotted also assessed locally available tools and resources for the production of beehives. While tools are available in Lae at a cost, it turned out that untreated timber was difficult to source at the main hardware outlets around Lae. Eventually a local timber yard near Nadzab was identified where we placed an order for untreated timber and bamboo. A small but suitable amount of bamboo was sourced from the Forest Research Institute which allowed the community construction workshop to go ahead.

The first community awareness and hive construction workshop took place at Ngarorap with a first cohort of eight young men from the project area. Beezotted commenced with an awareness and bee training session using laminated workshop photos and bee posters to assist the participants in gaining a better understanding of the topics discussed and the diversity of solitary and stingless bees. During the session, the community showed local traditional drums that use the stingless bee propolis to help tune their drums. This implies a history of local use of bees and their products.

Directly afterward, a construction workshop was conducted focusing on simple effective hive design and tool use. Three prototypes hives (2 wooden boxes and a bamboo hive) were brought by Beezotted to trial with the native species in the Markham Valley. The bamboo hive was specifically designed by Edi for the local conditions: a low-cost, simple design made from locally available materials, requiring minimal tools to construct. During the construction workshop, the men turned out to be very resourceful and skilled in operating basic tools (saw and bushknife) to cut and split bamboo to construct a beehive. They caught on quickly to the design principles and swiftly and proudly produced two bamboo beehives.

A bamboo beehive produced at a construction workshop.

Beezotted also inspected the two hives with Austroplebia cincta previously established by PNG Biomass. One hive filled less than half the mini oath box and was found to be active with a healthy amount of foraging and guard bees present. The other hive had failed to establish after transfer; presumably due to lack of a queen or inability to requeen. The remaining decomposed hive material within the mini hive box offered no other likely clues as to the fate of the hive.

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