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Wild Things - Native Bees

Wild Things - Native Bee
Everybody is familiar with the honey bee but don't realise that honey bees were introduced to Australia in the 1820s, and just like other introduced species such as rabbits and cane toads, have gone feral and are competing with native species, including native bees, for habitat and resources.

There are about 20,000 bee species worldwide of which about 1,600 call Australia home. Most of our native Australian bees are 'solitary', that is they don't create hives or have social structures like honey bees. Instead, female solitary bees lay a few eggs in a small nest or burrow, depositing a ball of pollen and nectar with each egg as food. Some species of native bees excavate burrows in the ground, while others drill holes into the flower stalks of grass trees or take advantage of holes in the mortar between the bricks of your house or knot holes in wooden posts.

Solitary bees range in size from two millimetres to two and half centimetres, come in a variety of colours and can be hairy or shiny and smooth. Some of the more common native bees that you can see living in your garden include blue banded bees, leafcutter bees and teddy bear bees.

While most native bees are solitary, 11 species in Australia are colonial or hive building bees. They create small hives often in tree hollows and have a social structure similar to that of honey bees that includes a queen, worker bees and drones. NSW has only one species of colonial bee, Tetragonula carbonaria. T. carbonaria are small, black bees about 2mm long, whose range extends from the far north of Australia to Bega. Beyond Bega winter temperatures are too cold for Tetragonula to survive.

Famously, Australian colonial native bees such as Tetragonula cannot sting but our solitary native bees do. While many solitary bees are simply too small to effectively sting people others are certainly big enough and can sting more than once. However native bees are generally not aggressive and as they occur in low numbers and therefore do not pose the same threat as a hive of honey bees.

Native bees are an important part of our environment, they pollinate native plants and are a food source for other native animals. Increasingly their importance as crop pollinators is becoming better understood as colony collapse syndrome decimates honey bee populations.

You can help support native bees by planting a variety of summer and winter flowering plants in your garden, create solitary native bee habitat by building a 'bee hotel' or by simply leaving areas of bare earth in your garden.

Council regularly holds talks on both solitary and colonial native bees and workshops where you can build your own bee hotel to take home. Check out the links below for more information.

Photographs courtesy of Flickr and Creative Commons, Linda Rogan, Aussie Bee and Robin Jay.

Aussie Bee Sugarbag Ku-ring-gai Council Native Bees

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