Australian Native Bees

Everyone knows the introduced commercial honey bee, but not everyone knows about our very own Aussie bees.

© Photo courtesy of Dianne Clarke

There is growing interest in encouraging more of our own fascinating Australian native bees amongst gardeners, native plant enthusiasts and honey producers. Not only are they fascinating to observe, they perform the essential function of pollination for Australian plants. Lots of seeds ensures healthy bushland!

A fun fact for your next party, is that there are over 1,600 different species of our little Aussie bees, and some think possibly closer to 2,000 species! From the world’s smallest bee, Euryglossina (Quasihesma) spp. measuring a tiny 2 mm to the big fat Amegilla dawsoni at 24mm, and in a beautiful array of colours and textures such as the electric blue Neon cuckoo bee below, it’s worth growing some nectar rich plants to attract them to your garden.

© Photo courtesy of Dianne Clarke

Most of our bees are solitary, which means they don’t form a hive with a queen and workers. Instead, the female will build a nest after mating to hatch the next generation. This means they don’t store honey like European bees. The large and wonderfully furry teddy bear bee, the easily identified blue banded bee (seen below in a roosting colony- not that solitary!) and the interesting leaf cutter bee are some of the better known solitary bees.

© Photo courtesy of Dianne Clarke

There are a few varieties that are called social bees, and these will form small nests of a few hundred workers and drones. While these bees don’t collect large quantities of honey like our introduced bees, they do take and store small amounts, and it tends to be more tasty and tangy. There is growing interest in developing techniques to keep the social bees and to harvest the honey, but if you come across them in the wild it is best not to try to collect the honey so as to preserve the nest.

© Photo courtesy of Dianne Clarke

Attracting Australian Native Bees to Your Garden

There are several things you can do to encourage native bees to your garden. The average modern landscape is often focused on low maintenance, but sadly these are often made up of plants with minimal flower displays, which means bees have much less nectar sources to attract them and keep them healthy.

The first thing- research what plants are good for abundant nectar production. My advanced plant search has many categories to search on- if you go to the wildlife category you can search for plants that attract bees and insects. A quick list of good bee plants are all the bottlebrush type flowers such as Callistemon and Melaleucas as well as Hakeas, Grevilleas, Westringia, Hardenbergia, kangaroo paws and the Eucalypts. The bonus is that these also attract birds.

© Photo courtesy of Dianne Clarke

The second thing to make your garden a haven for bees (and birds) is to provide a source of clean fresh water. While birds like to splash around in water and don’t mind deeper water, if the container has steep sides then bees can drown while they try to drink. So pop a rock in if you have a deep container, or have a shallow bowl that you keep filled regularly.

A perfect water dish for the birds and the bees- from Mallee Design

The third thing is to keep insecticides and other sprays to a minimum, other than benign ones like pest oil. While they are very handy for killing destructive bugs, they are also taking a terrible toll on our bee populations.

The fourth good thing you can do for bees is to provide houses for them. In the wild the social bees will nest in hollow logs and in holes in trees. So leave any hollows in trees rather than being too tidy, as other creatures can also make use of these for nesting if the bees don’t use them. Bundles of sticks or bamboo will provide good spots for solitary bees. People are now making attractive bee hotels full of tempting nooks in a bid to entice the little fellows. Blue banded bees
will dig into mortar and mud to make a home, so if you see holes, don’t panic- you may be playing host to these eccentric little darters.

Good Websites For More Bee Information-

Every state has registered regional Beekeepers associations for the honey bee (apis mellifera) people and they provides advice on disease control, pests etc-

For a list of beekepers associations- http://www.honeybee.com.au/beeinfo/assn.html

A great search site- http://www.padil.gov.au/pollinators/search?queryType=all

Lots about native bees- http://www.aussiebee.com.au/index.html