For many years now my husband has had a fascination with Australian native bees. His enthusiasm is infectious and I too now love these gorgeous little insects that come to visit our garden and pollinate our flowers, vegetables and herbs.
There are over 1500 species of native bees in Australia. Most of these are solitary bees that live without queens, workers or drones. They build their nests in tiny burrows in soil, wood or in clay crevices (like in the side of our building). It isn’t possible to harvest honey from them, but they do contribute to the pollination of our domestic and some commercial produce which is hugely important.
The Blue Banded Bee (Amegilla cingulata) and the Teddy Bear Bee (Amegilla bombiformis) regularly visit our garden. If you think the Teddy Bear sounds like it might be big and furry well you would be right. One day I was sitting at my desk and all of a sudden I heard what sounded like a blow fly in the room. I tried to ignore it and hoped it would find its way back out the window but when I turned around I discovered a big furry bee not very happy with it’s choice of flight path. The Teddy Bear isn’t an aggressive bee so I decided that it would appreciate being guided out the kitchen window since that was where it was now headed. After a little persuasion and a run in with the glass it managed to escape back to the garden. I now often hear it pollinating the plants outside my window and I just love it, it is such a busy little worker and I appreciate its visits.
You can clearly see the iridescent bands of blue on the Blue Banded Bee
Click here to see a Blue Banded Bee buzz pollinate a tomato flower.
Teddy Bear bees are found in all states except Tasmania. They range from 7mm to 20mm but you’ll usually find them to be around 15mm. Many Teddy Bear bees nest in shallow burrows in clay soil but more and more of their native habitat is being destroyed due to land clearing.
The golden fur of the Teddy Bear Bee. This is how they sleep.
Blue Banded Bee and Teddy Bear Bee Images from: http://www.aussiebee.com.au/
Click here to see a Teddy Bear Bee buzz pollinate a Senna flower.
The Blue Banded bee can also be heard from inside our home. It seems to love the basil flowers and tomato flowers and because we have so many they tend to visit most days. They have bands of beautiful iridescent blue fur across their backs but it can also be green, reddish or white. Blue Banded bees and the Teddy Bear bees are excellent at buzz pollination. Buzz pollination is where the bee has the ability to take hold of the flower and vigorously vibrate her flight muscles resulting in a loud ‘buzz’. This action releases the hidden pollen from within the flower. Tomatoes, capsicum and chillis hide their pollen this way as well as some natives, such as Dianella and Hibbertia to name but two.
We’re pretty friendly around these parts and as they say all creatures great and small tiny need a home – even if they already have one somewhere else. We were having so many visits from these friendly little critters that my husband decided he would make a lovely home for them. One from clay and one from wood. So one Saturday afternoon after acquiring all the required materials:
- 2 x Bessa blocks
- 1 x bag of clay
- 1m of mesh
He made a clay home complete with burrows.
Bricks to keep the hive off the ground. Mesh to keep the clay from pouring through. Bessa blocks to give the hive structure.
Making the clay, following the directions on the side of the bag
Pouring the clay into the bessa block. When the hives were almost dry but still soft they were poked with a pen to leave holes for the bees to start building their nests.
As you can see there was a lot of clay required to fill all of the bessa block holes and as you can imagine the drying time was long. Within days of pouring the clay we had heavy down pours of rain and very mild weather (rather than the usual heat expected at that time of the year) which meant that the clay took longer to dry. But the clay did finally dry a few weeks later. I was concerned a curious little critter might like to make their new home, only to discover that they were stuck head first in wet clay, probably, never to be seen again.
The wooden bee-home was made from reclaimed wood and drilled at even intervals.
Well, it is a few months on now and so far no critters have taken up residence yet, but we keep checking. We know they visit and we know some of the solitary bees search the side of our building looking for holes in the brick mortar, some may even be living in them. As our north facing wall cools down over the next few months we may notice more arrive and think our clay or wood burrows are pretty appealing. Let’s hope so!
Here you can notice the holes in both the wooden board and in the clay. These holes are where the bees enter to make their nest and lay an egg. The mother usually dies before the young bee emerge from the nest.
The clay and wood burrows are usually shaded by a basil plant growing in a pot placed in front. They are more likely to reside near plants that they are attracted to.
Anyone interested in learning more about Australian native bees can go to www.aussiebee.com.au They have lots of available resources plus books and publications to purchase.
To get us started my husband and I purchased Australian Stingless Bees A Guide to Sugarbag Beekeeping by John Klumpp and Introduction to Australian Native Bees *second edition by Dr Anne Dollin. I would recommend these resources.
Bees are such wonderful little creatures and we need them to continue to pollinate our food and flowers. If the bees, native or not, disappear many of our food crops will not get pollinated. Encourage bees back to your garden with flowering plants and shelter, you’ll notice an increase in produce and be able to enjoy the sounds of nature outside your own window.
If anyone has any native beekeeping or native bee spotting stories I’d love to hear from you.
p.s. As I was getting ready to post this blog Teddy Bear Bee came in for a visit. I have seen and heard him/her outside a number of times today. So exciting and very serendipitous!