Much abuzz about native bees

Rebecca Klomp, Land Services Officer.

Australian native bees

Like so many other natural wonders, Australian native bees can often go about their important business without drawing any attention, leaving them undiscovered too many. Australia is home to 1,600 species of diverse and beautiful native bees. Having evolved to the wildflowers of Australia for thousands of years they come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Our exquisite bees drive biodiversity by pollination, facilitating seed production and fruit development. Each bee species individually contributes to the preservation of indigenous biodiversity of Australia and plays an important role in today’s horticultural and agricultural industries.

Key points:

  • Australia is home to 1,600 species of native bee
  • Bees, acting as pollinators, are key drivers of biodiversity in our landscapes
  • The South East is home to mainly solitary bees, bees that do not have a queen
  • Solitary bees usually only gather pollen from one or a few species of plants, so they are closely linked with landscape biodiversity.

Our region is mainly home to solitary bee species, this means that the bees live individually rather than in a colony, each female bee mates and then builds a solitary nest on her own. Solitary bees gather pollen to provision their nests with food for their brood, they do not have queens, workers or drones. Solitary bees are usually oligoleges, only gathering pollen from one or a few species or genera of closely related plants.

Some of our native bees such as blue banded bees, carpenter bees and teddy bear bees are capable of buzz pollination. The process of buzz pollination involves an effective technique to release pollen which is held firmly by the anthers of some flowering species. This is done by the bee’s ability to grasp the flower with its legs and vigorously vibrate their thoracic muscles dislodging the pollen. There are many plants that are pollinated by buzz pollination including: species of the Solanaceae family, Hibberta spp, Dianella spp, blueberries and cranberries.

Some species found in our region include:

  • Blue banded bees, Amegilla pulchra, Amegilla asserta: A large (1.2 cm) and vibrant banded blue bee, well known for their ability to perform buzz pollination and its fondness for purple and blue flowers, these bees are valuable pollinators for market gardeners and farmers. Nesting in clay soil, soft stone and mudbrick.
  • Teddy bear bees (Some species include), Amegilla bombiformis: These rotund bees, also preform buzz pollination and are covered in thick golden brown/orange fur, resembling a bumblebee shape. The female teddy bear bee builds shallow nest burrows in soft soil, and creek banks.
  • Leafcutter bees (Some species include), Megachile maculariformis, Megachile serricaud: Most leafcutter bees are black and white with orange-gold stripes of hair on their abdomen. People often first notice leafcutter bees when they observe a row of neat circular cuts on the leaves of garden plants. The female leafcutter uses the discs of leaf as materials to construct her delicate nest.

Planting out large plots of flowers is the greatest way to attract bees to your garden. The more variety of flowers you can provide in your garden will result in a greater diversity of bees you will attract. Many bee species are drawn to purple and blue flowers, blue banded bees and teddy bear bees in particular. Common native plants that attract native bees include; tea tree, hardenbergia, eucalypts, pultanaea, westreingia and grevillea. Planting exotic herbs like basil, parsley, coriander, celery, fennel, rosemary, silvia, hyssop and borage will also attract bee species to your backyard.

To learn more about native bees and how you can improve biodiversity on your property contact your nearest Local Land Services office on 1300 795 299.

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