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"carbonaria" Sugarbag bee

Scientific Name
Tetragonula carbonaria
Scientific Author
Smith, 1854
(Hymenoptera: Apidae: Apinae: Meliponini)
Native Australian Beneficial Species

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Diagnostic Notes

We call these bees "Sugarbag"; however, they are better described as Australia's stingless, social honeybees.

Stingless, honey-producing bees living in social colonies with a queen, drones and thousands of workers.

Trigona carbonaria Smith, F. 1854. Catalogue of Hymenopterous Insects in the Collection of the British Museum. Part II. Apidae. London : British Museum pp. 199–465 [414].

Type data: Holotype BMNH Hym.17.b.1136 worker, Australia.

Trigona angophorae Cockerell, T.D.A. 1912. Descriptions and records of bees. XLII. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 8 9: 220–229 [225]. syn.

Type data: Holotype BMNH Hym.17.b.1139 worker, Sydney, NSW.

In T. carbonaria, T. hockingsi and T. mellipes  the side of the thorax is evenly covered with fine hair.  This distinguishes them from T. clypearis and T. sapiens, in which part of the side of the thorax is shiny and sparsely haired.

Except for the body size difference (T. hockingsi larger) and distribution differences, there is no distinct character to separate T. carbonaria, T. hockingsi and T. mellipes.

They have similar colouration, pilosity and male terminalia.

However, the nest architecture is fundamental to the distinction between T. carbonaria, T. hockingsi and T. mellipes.

In T. carbonaria, the brood cells form a complete horizontal spiral comb. Normally there is no external entrance tunnel.

In T. hockingsi, the brood cells form small irregular horizontal combs. Normally there is no external entrance tunnel.

In T. mellipes, the brood cells form small irregular horizontal combs. Most nests do possess an external entrance tunnel.

T. carbonaria mainly occurs in southern QLD and in NSW as far south as Bega.  T. hockingsi occurs in northern QLD and in parts of NT

Trigona carbonaria is diagnosed by:

-   Female worker body colour jet black
-   Female worker measurements= body: 3.9-4.3mm; Wing (including tegula): 4.3-4.6mm (NSW) 4.1-4.5mm (Qld)
-   Mesopleuron and metapleuron densely and evenly covered with fine, short hair
-   Malar space hirsute and relatively long
-   Mesoscutum without distinct glabrous bands

- Male drone body colour similar to worker
-   Male measurements= body 3.8-4.2mm; wing (including tegula): 4.3-4.6mm (NSW) 4.2-4.4mm (Qld)
-   Male hind tibia wide and flatter apically as in T. clypearis
-   Male last tergum apically rounded not beaked


Anne Dollin (pers. comm. May 2009) wrote the nesting notes.

Dollin, A.E., Dollin, L.J. & Sakagami, S.F. 1997. Australian stingless bees of the genus Trigona (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Invertebrate Taxonomy 11: 861–896

Note: The classification used here follows Michener 2007 (The Bees of the World, Second edition The John Hopkins University Press).

Rasmussen, C. and S. Cameron (2007) (A molecular phylogeny of the Old Wiorld stingless bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Meliponini) and the non-monophyly of the large genus Trigona. Systematic Entomology 32: 26-39) suggested that Australian species in the genus Trigona be moved into the genus Tetragonula.

More Information
Dollin, A., Walker, K. & Heard, T.
07/05/2009 05:04 AEST
Last Updated
09/12/2011 14:26 AEST
Dollin, A., Walker, K. & Heard, T. (2009) "carbonaria" Sugarbag bee (Tetragonula carbonaria) Updated on 12/9/2011 2:26:19 PM Available online: PaDIL -
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