Interview and lessons from Allan Beil
Recently Dean and I went to visit Allan Beil. We spent a couple of days learning from this very kind, helpful man. Allan is a conservationist and has helped many scientists find the information they need about native bees. If you have read a scientific article on native bees then chances are Allan has had something to do with it along the way. His observations and work have played an important part of Australia’s native bee understanding and for this he should be commended.
Here Allan Beil is showing Dean some internal workings of the austroplebia australis hive. Allan has his own design of box that he likes to use for his bees. It consists of about a 5 litre box with glass mounted to the top. A lid that covers the whole top is placed over a sheet of lino that covers the glass to stop any light entering the box. Allan also writes any notable observations with each hive on this piece of lino. It creates a history for each box and is quite interesting to read.
Allan and Identifying bees in logs
Here Allan is teaching us about resin spots that native bees use to identify which tree it is that they live in. Quite often these spots are placed on any holes that are naturally in a tree.
A llan Beil on creating bee habitats
Allan has been hard at work to provide homes for bees in his area. Here you can see some of his methods to provide homes for bees in hollow trees. One method is to drill a hole in a tree and place a piece of pipe in the hole, thus preventing the tree from overgrowing the hole and covering it. Allan has also tried a simple chainsaw slot which has also proved to work as a suitable nest entrance. The most success with these methods has been the Tetragonula species which have moved in to trees with a distance of over 700m from the original hive. You can see Allan showing us a nest inside this tree – one that has taken residence because of his work.
Allan likes to mark all of his queens and for very good reason too! The most accurate knowledge we have of how long a queen lives for, comes from Allan. He has been marking queens for years and documenting their life span, when a queen is overthrown and killed and when there are multiple queens in a box.
Here Allan Beil showed us the internal workings of a log that bees had been setting up in. This was a rare opportunity to see actually how long it can take native bees to set up a hive. This log Allan has watched for over 3 years and they can take 10 years or more to get their home just right before moving a queen in.
The first thing that these bees do is to seal both ends of the hollow up with resin, this resin has a low wax content which means it dries very hard, almost like glass, and is brittle. They will seal any holes that are not their entrance hole. Allan then showed us another log that displayed what the bees do next. They coat the entire inside of their nest with a thin layer of resin to seal it and make it easy to build on.
While we were visiting, Allan had a call from a friend who had asked if he could cut down a hive for him on his property. The hive was in a skinny dead old tree and Dean and I were quite amazed at the length of the hive from end cap to end cap, 15 feet! Allan showed us his method for carefully taking down this hive without harming the bees. When the log was opened we were quite surprised to see how the bees had built honey and pollen pots in seemly random positions right up the length of the log. The brood was carefully removed and a search for the queen to go with it happened shortly after. We had a great time with Allan and it was good to see that sometimes in life people are just passionate about what they do. Allan’s sense of humor is so refreshing, he really is just himself and it is nice to see.
Before we left I asked him some questions:
How did you become interested in stingless bees? I met a lady who owned a prickle farm who lent me a paper article about boxing stingless bees.
What type of stingless bee is your favorite and why? Austroplebia australis. They are just great to look at, little go getters. I just love them!
What things do you like about your box design and what inspirations did you have? I like that I can see the bees clearly? I measured a log for nest volume and came up with a design of my own.
Why do you believe bees are important? They pollinate lots of different plants
Have you learned something recently about bees that you would wish to share? With austroplebeia when workers are frustrated they will hold a queen down. Also, the queen will not mate with only one drone, she will mate with many inside the hive.
Finally, what is your one piece of life advice you would share with the world? Don’t let people get you down. Each person has their own problems and you must take them how they are.
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Allan. He is a remarkable bushman and a keen observer of his bees. Thank you Nick for doing the excellent write up.
Nick mentions his box size as 5L, it’s actually about 7L. This is pretty different to a lot of other A.australis boxes out there at 2 or 3L. Allan based his box size on measurement of wild hives.
Allan has some huge hockingsi colonies as well. I calculated internal volume at 15L and when I lifted the lid for a peek they were full.
He had some pretty tight packed A.a colonies with about 25cm between entrances but cautions against this. He reckons the bees get confused and drift into other colonies. When there is a space of about 60cm between entrances he has no troubles.