Sunday, 3 November 2013

Native bees in the 'burbs

You've probably noticed a slight interest in honeybees on this blog :)   On the other hand, we knew practically nothing about Australian Native Bees.  When I saw there was going to be a presentation on the subject, sponsored by our local council at the Maranoa Gardens in Balwyn, I decided to go along. 

You may not realise, but the 'burbs are home to many native bees. In fact, Australia has the most unique bee fauna of any continent, with 2000 different types of native bee. Of these, 1600 species are short tongued bees and 400 species are long-tongued bees. The short-tongued bees are particularly well adapted to the bulk of Australian flora (Myrtaceae) which have shallow cup flowers. 

Native bees are much smaller than European honeybees - at least half the size.  And unlike honeybees which live in colonies, they are almost all solitary - living in holes they dig in the ground or in trees.  Males of different species are known to cluster together in a ball to keep warm overnight.

With 2000 species, native bees show amazing diversity. Photos and data on the entire 2000 species can be found at (select the Biodiversity tab).  You can do a search and see what bees are native to your city.

We've seen the following native bees in our garden. We noticed them because they tend to hover in the air before alighting on a flower.

On our glorious pink callistemon flowers:

They seem to really like the rocket lettuce flowers

Here's one resting on an orange tree leaf

I'm not sure how many different types visit our garden - we'll have to keep our eyes open.

There was one thing in particular I had been wondering about when it came to native bees and that was their ability to pollinate our food crops. Once the Varroa mite reaches our shores and devastates our honeybee populations, could our native bees step in and do the job of pollination?  I got to ask this question at the native bee presentation and the answer was, unfortunately, no.  Native bees have specifically evolved to pollinate native flora and as such are not suited to pollinating the fruits, nuts and vegetables that make up so much of our diet.  Natural, bee-friendly beekeeping with the aim of breeding honeybees that can cope with pests and diseases, is going to be very important for our future food security.

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