Backyard Buddies
Native Bees

Photo: Louise Docker

Native Bees

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Commercial honey bees came to our shores from Europe in 1822, but there are over 1,500 species of native bees across the country. Australian bees can be as small as 2 mm in length.

About 10% of Australia's native bees are 'social', meaning that they form hives, and have a queen, infertile female worker bees and male drones which fertilise the queen. They are completely stingless.

Stingless bees are quite a sight when they're collecting pollen - they harvest it and keep it in big balls on their back legs to take back to their hive. Stingless bees make a small amount of honey which they store in tiny pots. They like a warm climate and live in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. But you're not missing out if you don't live in one of these states - other kinds of native bees live near you.

Stingless bees are great buddies to have around the garden as they are fantastic pollinators of mangoes, macadamias, and watermelons. They may also be a great help to your strawberries, citrus fruit and avocados.

Most of Australia's bees are solitary creatures. A single female bee mates and then builds a nest for her eggs. These solitary bees don't store any honey in their tiny nests.

Native bees pollinate Australia's beautiful wildflowers and are a vital part of our bushland. To take care of our native bees, plant something they love - such as a variety of the Myrtaceae family, which includes bottlebrushes and gums.

Bees come in a great range of colours and sizes. Some have furry overcoats while others are smooth and shiny. During the warmer months, you have a good chance of seeing native bees anywhere in Australia. Bees nest in habitats as diverse as tree hollows, underground burrows or inside plant stems.

Native bees that you are most likely to see include:

Stingless Social Bees - Trigona and Austroplebeia 

Australia's own native honeybees can be found building resinous nests inside hollow trees. They store their aromatic honey in tiny pots.

Leafcutter Bees - Megachile
Many gardeners first discover leafcutter bees when they notice the neat circular pieces that the bees have cut away from the edges of leaves. The bees weave these leaf pieces making tiny cells for their young.

Masked Bees - Amphylaeus, Hylaeus and Meroglossa:
Masked Bees are slim bees with pale marking on their faces like masks, and a special yellow spot on the thorax. Masked Bees have very little hair on their bodies and carry pollen by swallowing it. You can find them in every state and territory of Australia.

Blue Banded Bees - Amegilla 

These bees love visiting purple flowers such as native peas. They have beautiful metallic blue-green and black bands on their abdomens and golden hairs on their heads and thoraxes. They live along the edges of rainforests, in open forest, woodland, desert and also in gardens across Australia. They live everywhere in Australia except for Tasmania.

Teddy Bear Bees - Amegilla
These fat bees can be found nesting in shallow burrows in the soil. As these bees age, the hair on the top of their thorax becomes worn and they develop a bald spot. They get their name from the thick red-brown fur on their bodies. Like Blue-banded Bees, they live all over the country except for Tasmania.

Reed Bees - Exoneura
Reed bees make a habit of nesting in dried stems of a number of plants including tree ferns and the dead canes of lantana. When these plants are removed from gardens or bushland people often don't realise they are destroying the colonies of these bees. Check for nests and relocate them before removing.

Black and Yellow Carpenter Bees - Eylocopa species: 

They grow from 15 to 24 mm long and are the largest native bees in Australia. The females buzz loudly as they visit flowers, and are commonly seen on trees such as Cassia, Tipuana and Albizia. The female makes her nest by digging tunnels in decayed wood and pithy stems. They live in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

How to be a Bee Buddy:

Plant bee food plants - bees love angophoras, eucalyptus, brachyschomes, callistemon, melaleucas, scaevolas, grevilleas, tea trees, hibbertias and westringias.

Provide a nice bee home. Make nest sites for some solitary bees from dead or hollow stems or by drilling holes in blocks of hardwood timber.

Avoid using insecticides in the garden.

Did you know?

European honeybees collect 90% of available nectar and pollen but pollinate only about 5% of our plants.

Not all bees sting. For most Australian bees stinging is not their style.

Most Australian bees are solitary. Of the 2000 species of native bees only 10 are social and form hives.

Carpenter Bees, Blue-banded Bees and Teddy Bear Bees have a special way of pollinating flowers. They vibrate a flower so vigorously that pollen locked away in little capsules explodes out. A static charge draws the pollen back to cover their bodies. The bees move from flower to flower doing this, which results in pollination.

 

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Quote

”Protecting & safeguarding Australia’s wilderness & wildlife is important for the health and enjoyment for our future generations, thanks FNPW for your support of our project.“

Dr Ricky Spencer – Lead Scientist Murray River Turtle Project, NSW

Photo: OEH