The bee tribe Ceratinini provides important insights into the early stages of sociality. Many arthropods exhibit behaviours precursory to social life, including adult longevity, parental care, nest loyalty and mutual tolerance, yet the origins of social behaviour are few. Here we describe the biology of a facultatively social bee, Ceratina (Neoceratina) australensis, which exhibits all of the preadaptations for successful group living, yet presents ecological and behavioural characteristics that seemingly disfavour frequent colony formation. This species is socially polymorphic with both solitary and social nests collected in sympatry. Social colonies consist of two foundresses, one contributing both foraging and reproductive effort and the second which remains at the nest as a passive guard. Cooperative nesting provides no overt reproductive benefits over solitary nesting in this population, although brood survival tends to be greater in social colonies. Maternal longevity, subsociality and bivoltine nesting phenology in this species favour colony formation, while dispersal habits and offspring longevity may inhibit more frequent social nesting in this and other ceratinines.