A few people have been curious about the bee in the headline photo of our blog. Knowing that I am a hobby beekeeper, some thought it may have been one of my European honeybees (Apis mellifera) in action. The bee in the photo is actually one of a trio of native bee species that I noticed working a bank of Black- anthered flax lilies (Dianella revoluta) on a hot December afternoon in Flowerdale.
This bee as far as I can identify, is commonly known as a Green and Gold Nomia (Lipotriches australica) and is a key pollinator associated with the Pale Flax lily (Dianella longifolia) and the Black- anthered flax lily. This bee, like most of the 1500 plus species of Australian native bees is a solitary bee, each female creating her own nest. By contrast the European honeybee and the native stingless bees (Trigona carbonaria) are social bees that live as a hive with a queen bee. The Green and Gold Nomia constructs her nest by burrowing into the ground and creating cells. She places the pollen and nectar that she collects into the cell as provisions for the larva that will emerge from the egg she lays. Although solitary, she can share the entrance tunnel with other females of the same species.
The second of the trio that I noticed is probably one that is more familiar in the Flowerdale are. This bee attracts attention with its short sharp runs and hovering in front of its flower target before darting in for a split second stay then darting off to the next flower. Commonly known as the Blue-banded bee (Amegilla cingulata), another solitary bee, it is highly attracted to blue flowers. It is another important pollinator of the flax lillies. The Blue-banded bee has a peculiar method of collecting pollen through sonication also known as ‘buzz pollination’. Sonication is the rapid vibration of the muscles in the thorax between the wings that forces the release of pollen from the anther of the flower. The ‘buzz’ is quite audible unaided. This bee is still around despite the Black-anthered flax lily having finished flowering. It can be seen visiting salvias, lobelia, lavender and tomatoes in our garden. The Blue-banded bee is an effective pollinator of tomatoes and may be a back up if varroa mite enters Australia and decimates the European honeybee population.
The third of the trio caught my attention with its irridescent markings as it searched the clay bank looking like a predatory wasp. It was too elusive for me to photograph but can be found by going to www.aussiebee.com.au and looking for the Neon Cuckoo bee (Thyreus nitidulus).
As the name suggests, the Neon Cuckoo bee lays its egg in the nest cell of its host, in this case the Blue-banded bee, and then leaves. The unsuspecting Blue-banded bee does all the hard work of digging the nest burrow, storing provisions of nectar and pollen and sealing the cell only to have its own larvae starve as the Neon Cuckoo bee larvae make use of the food supply.
The moral of this story is that just by planting native lily species, you can create a small ecological community. The lilies need their native bees and the Neon Cuckoo bee needs the Blue-banded bee. More detail on this relationship can be found at www.aff.org.au/Duncan_Dianella_final.pdf.
Interested in encouraging bees to your garden? Have a look at ‘Bee Friendly – A planting guide for European Honeybees and Australian native pollinators’ through www.rirdc.gov.au/pollination
Stay tuned to the King Parrot Creek Environment Group site for an activity involving bees later in the year.
Posted by Steve Joblin