Asian honeybees (Apis cerana - pictured below) are now pretty easy to see around Cairns, QLD, and recently I saw them daily as I’ve walked around Cairns city. A. cerana was accidentally introduced to Cairns in 2007, and despite a short-lived government funded eradication program that ended in early 2011, they have managed to do pretty well. Unfortunately that means Australia has them now for good...! Another invasive species to put pressure on Australian ecosystems and biodiversity (through things like competition with native species for floral resources and nest sites). Honeybee keepers in Australia are also concerned about the potential for a resident population of A. cerana to make honeybee pest and disease transmission more complicated to detect and manage. A few months ago, another incursion of A. cerana occurred, in Townsville, where authorities found a single colony on a ship in port. The colony was destroyed, along with the Varroa mites it was found to be harbouring. Varroa mites will not affect any of our native bee species, only introduced Apis mellifera and Apis cerana (it coexists with A. cerana, but kills or weakens A. mellifera colonies).
Contrary to popular belief, pollination by Honeybees does not result in one third of the food we eat…!!! It’s probably much closer to one sixth or one ninth… Yes, about one third of the food we eat is the result of BIOTIC pollination (as opposed to wind pollination in cereal crops), but honeybees (Apis mellifera - pictured below) are just a part of the pollinator mix. Many of the other 20,000+ bee species on the planet also perform crop pollination, as do other insects such as flies and wasps. While determining precise, generalisable percentages is very difficult, we know from research in the UK that of the crops requiring biotic pollination (in the UK, in 2007), honeybees likely perform only a third of the overall pollination (so, are just responsible for a third, of a third, of the food produced in the UK in 2007!). The majority of biotic pollination in this instance was likely the result of non-honeybee native bees, and other native insects. We also know that globally, yields of a wide range of important crops increase significantly when visited by wild, non-honeybee pollinators, and often wild pollinators are more effective crop pollinators than honeybees. So, honeybees are indeed important to our global food production (even one ninth is very significant for a single bee species!), but other non-honeybee wild pollinators likely collectively contribute more, and as such must be given the recognition and protection they deserve.
Bee or Fly? The picture below is of a Hoverfly. People often misidentify Hoverflies as Australian native bees, particularly the darker coloured species. Other than the shape of the head, an easy feature to tell a fly from a bee is wing number. Bees have four wings, while flies only have two (a single pair). Hoverflies (also called Flower Flies) are collectively the second most important group of pollinators on the planet, after bees! As well as the Hoverflies, there are many other fly families with species that are pollinators.
Boy teddy bear bees doing what boy teddy bear bees do. At night, males of Amegilla (Asaropoda) bombiformis roost on lower twigs or stems of shrubs, clinging on with their mandibles. Sometimes five or more can be seen attached in a snug row. Males of many solitary bee species snuggle up and roost in groups like this at night. Teddy bear bees are close relatives of blue banded bees. The males of both species roost in the same way, and the females of both have similar soil nests. Also like blue banded bees, teddy bear bees are common garden visitors, and are also 'buzz pollinators'.
A female native Blue Banded Bee, Amegilla (Zonamegilla) cingulata (pictured). Yesterday I visited a friend who lives in a mud brick house and has about 50 of these bees nesting in one of her walls. They are a solitary bee species, the females of which nest individually (although often near each other, in aggregations). A single female excavates a burrow in the ground (or a mud brick, or the side of a dry riverbank or gully), where she lays just five or so eggs (in individually partitioned cells). She forages on lots of flowers, makes small parcels of pollen and nectar to provision each of her eggs, and then seals up the nest. Having done what female solitary bees do, she then usually dies. Over time, the eggs develop into larva, and then pupa. Finally, fully developed bees emerge from the nest, and go forth and repeat the process (males just live lives of mating, eating, and hanging out at night in posses, on the undersides of shrubs). These bees are 'buzz pollinators', and are great pollinators of tomatoes
The Neon Cuckoo Bee (Thyreus nitidulus). Arguably one of the coolest looking bees in Australia. Neon Cuckoo Bees are a solitary parasitic species. Instead of constructing a nest of her own, an individual female cuckoo sneaks into the soil nests of blue banded bees to lay her eggs. The blue banded bee does all the foraging for pollen and nectar, but may end up provisioning one or some of the cuckoo's eggs instead of one or some of her own. 15% of the world's 20,000+ bee species are thought to be parasites.
These are a collection of posts that have appeared on the Bee Aware Brisbane Facebook page over the last couple of years.