To Bee or Not to Bee

30 January 2018

A Blue Banded Bee

Figure 1. A Blue Banded Bee (Amegilla sp.) hovers over a Fringe Lily (Thysanotus sp.) at Blue Gum Lake. Photo credit: Thea Terpstra.

Bees play an integral role in more than just the production of honey and wax. Bees provide a critical eco-system service as pollinators. Of the roughly 20,000 known bee species, about 2000 are native to Australia and approximately 800 species occur within WA.

The majority of our native bee species are solitary, as opposed to colony forming. Our bees come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be hairy or almost wasp-like. Some of them burrow, others nest in the ground, there are carpenters bees that bore holes into stems and the lodger bees that will skip the hard work and nest in pre-existing hollows. Despite the many differences, what our native bees all have in common is how important they are in our natural environment. Native bees play a critical role in the pollination of a vast number of our native flowering plants such as Grevillea, Hakea, Hemiandra, Hibbertia, Leschenaultia and many more!

World-wide, bee species are responsible for the pollination of many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat daily and indeed the food of the animals that we may (or may not) consume. If you chow down on Almonds, Apples, Avocado, Beans, Blueberry, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots or Coffee then to some extent you depend on the work of bees, and that is literally just the beginning! Work your way through the alphabet and it is clear that without bees, our plates would look a lot less appealing. In addition to the commercial agricultural benefits, bees play an essential role in maintaining global biodiversity.

You have undoubtedly heard that world-wide, bee populations are in decline and the implications of this tragic phenomenon are far-reaching. Recent studies have attributed global bee population declines to habitat fragmentation, introduced species and ongoing herbicide and pesticide use, particularly within commercial agricultural systems. Despite the global decline, within Western Australia the Honeybee (Apis mellifera) is experiencing a population explosion. The Honeybee was introduced during European settlement in 1822, for the production of beeswax, honey and to pollinate introduced fruit trees. Since its introduction the Honeybee has bred out of control and now poses a major risk to native hollow nesting fauna, such as Black Cockatoos, Parrots, Owls and Possums to name a few. The feral Honeybee will swarm and take over tree hollows and nest boxes in order to form a new colony, often stinging or engulfing any residing animals. Many local governments have ongoing Honeybee management as part of their pest management practices.

Although the Honeybee is certainly prolific, with a bit of patience and a keen eye you will be able to see many of our beautiful (and much friendlier) native bees out and about. One type most commonly spotted at this time of year and a personal favourite, are the Blue-banded bees (Amegilla species)
(Fig. 1).

If this article has created a buzz and you would like to do your bit for native bee populations, why not take advantage of our native plant subsidy and incorporate some native plants in your garden, or have a go at creating your own insect hotel!

Written by:
Sarah-Jane McMahon

Environmental Education Officer | City of Melville

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