The Bees Knees
Unlike commercial honeybees imported from Europe, Australian bees have spent millennia evolving with Australian wildflowers so they've adapted to each other.
Bees come in a great range of colours and sizes, from a tiny 2mm to 24mm. Some have furry overcoats while others are smooth and shiny like a stainless steel kettle. During these 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.
Blue Banded Bees - Amegilla
These bees love visiting purple flowers such as native peas.
Teddy Bear Bees - Amegilla
These fat bees can be found nesting in shallow burrows in the soil.
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.
Things to do 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.
- Native bee honey called Sugarbag has a unique, tangy flavour.
- 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.
- You may be able to buy stingless native bees for your backyard. Click here for more information.
- Bees have four wings but all flies have only two wings.
For more information, visit www.aussiebee.com.
What's the buzz in your backyard?
Have you noticed some busy, buzzing visitors around your garden now that the sun is shining and the flowers are open? Have a closer look and you might spot some lovely little creatures - native Australian bees.
Commercial honey bees came to our shores from Europe in in 1822, but with over 1,500 species of native bees across the country, Australia is all a buzz! Australian bees can be as small as 2 mm in length!
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.
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 fertilize 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. Australia has many interesting solitary bees, including:
Leafcutter Bees - Megachile:
which cut neat circular and oval pieces out of soft leaves to make the cells of their nests, usually built in existing crevices such as window frames, hollow twigs and stems. Leafcutter bees live all over Australia. Click here to watch a video of a Leafcutter bee doing what it does best.
Masked Bees - Amphylaeus, Hylaeus and Meroglossa:
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.
Black and Yellow Carpenter Bees - Eylocopa species:
which 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 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.
Blue-banded Bees - Amegilla species:
which 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. Click to watch a video of a Blue-banded Bee foraging with its long, long tongue. You may also see Blue-banded bees sleeping outside at night, as seen in this video.
Teddy Bear Bees - Amegilla Asaropoda:
which are chubby but charming little creatures that enjoy a teddy bear's picnic in your garden. As these bees age, the hair on the top of their thorax becomes worn and they develop a bald spot! Why are they Teddy Bears? Because of the thick red-brown fur that on their bodies. Like Blue-banded Bees, they live all over the country except for Tasmania. Watch a video of Teddy Bear Bees here.
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.
DID YOU KNOW?
What's the difference between a bee and a wasp? It's all in the diet. Bees feed their young with pollen collected from flowers. Wasps feed their bubs on insect or spider prey. So bees are vegetarian whereas wasps are carnivorous. If you see an insect collecting pollen from a flower in your garden, it's a bee and not a wasp.
To attract native bees, plant nectar-rich flowers and provide nest sites in your garden. Good plants to attract native bees include Melaleuca, Westringia, Grevillea, Callistemon, and Eucalyptus. A block of hardwood drilled with holes 4 to 9 mm wide and 150 mm deep could also provide a great nest site for local resin bees and leafcutters. Click here to find out how to make nest blocks for Blue-banded bees!