Have you ever met an Australian blue bee?

20 Feb 2019 Have you ever met an Australian blue bee?

Yes blue bees! Australia is home to an incredible diversity of native bees. It’s estimated our land down under probably has 2,000 different species of native bees, many of which are yet to be scientifically described. 

Blue Banded bees are one of the most commonly observed native bees in my hometown in the Illawarra. They a large bee (1.5cm), with distinctive coloured bands that range from bright blue to almost white. 

These noisy bees can perform a special kind of pollination – buzz pollination. Scientists have observed that when they are pollinating flowers, Blue Banded bees bang their head against the flower at a mind-blowing rate of 350 times a second. This releases pollen held tightly within the flower. Some plants, like tomatoes, really benefit from the buzz pollination skills of Blue Banded bees. 

Unlike European honeybees, which live together in a hive in the thousands, Blue Banded bees live pretty solitary lives. All the females can lay eggs - there is no fertile ‘queen’ and infertile ‘workers.’ Surprisingly, each female makes her own nest in the soil by burrowing out a little tunnel in soft ground. They are also known to make their nests in mudbrick houses, or in the crumbling mortar of old buildings.  

Have you heard of cuckoo birds? These freeloaders lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Well, in the same way, there are cheeky cuckoo bees in the world of bees! Both the Neon Cuckoo bee and Chequered Cuckoo bee predate Blue Banded bee nests. These stunning blue and black bees sneak into the Blue Banded bee nests to lay their eggs. If their young hatch first, they will eat all the food in the nest, and/or they may even eat the developing young of the unfortunate Blue Banded bee!

Neon Cuckoo bee

Chequered Cuckoo bee

Native bees are best spotted in the warmer months of the year. Here in the Illawarra, that’s from around October to April. Slow down and keep an eye out next time you pass some flowers – you never know, you might just spot a blue bee. 

Story and images by Alison Mellor

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