Stingless bees usually nest in hollow trunks, tree branches, underground cavities, termite nests or rock crevices, but they have also been encountered in wall cavities, old rubbish bins, water meters, and storage drums. Many beekeepers keep the bees in their original log hive or transfer them to a wooden box, as this makes controlling the hive easier. Some beekeepers put them in bamboos, flowerpots, coconut shells, and other recycling containers such as a water jug, a broken guitar, and other safe and closed containers.
The bees store pollen and honey in large, egg-shaped pots made of beeswax (typically) mixed with various types of plant resin; this combination is sometimes referred to as “cerumen” (which is, incidentally, the medical term for earwax).
These pots are often arranged around a central set of horizontal brood combs, wherein the larvae are housed. When the young worker bees emerge from their cells, they tend to initially remain inside the hive, performing different jobs. As workers age, they become guards or foragers. Unlike the larvae of honey bees and many social wasps, meliponine larvae are not actively fed by adults (progressive provisioning).
Pollen and nectar are placed in a cell, within which an egg is laid, and the cell is sealed until the adult bee emerges after pupation (mass provisioning). At any one time, hives can contain 300–80,000 workers, depending on species.
The remainder of the nest cavity, including the entrance tubes, is generally lined with of a mixture of secreted wax, plant resins (“propolis”), and other substances such as animal feces.