Family Colletidae (plasterer bees)
The Colletidae are a diverse group of bees, with over half of native Australian species belonging to this family. They are not commonly recognised by the casual observer, probably because they are often small and solitary. As a group they may be called plasterer, membrane, cellophane or even polyester bees. These names refer to the cellophane-like mouth secretion which they use to line their nests. This lining helps waterproof the nest and has anti-fungal properties.
Scientific classification: Leioproctus sp (Credit for id Kit Prendergast)
Yearly sightings: July 1st to June 30
When and Where in yard : Observed an individual bee on four or five different days over a few weeks in early to mid-autumn. It was seen foraging mainly on the oregano flowers, but also seen on mint flower and purple lucerne.
Observations : The leioproctus bee/s I observed were hairy and medium-sized (about 12mm long). The features that helped me distinguish from other black native bee genera was the brownish tinge of the thoracic hair and the distinctive white band at the base of the upper thorax (see pic below taken from above). When foraging on the small oregano flowers it curled its abdomen under the base of the flower and seemed to press on the lower petals with its forelegs to better access nectar or pollen. The bees I observed were females – with long scopal hairs on hind legs carrying pollen loads. The appearance of different Leioproctus species are varied. While most are mainly black there are also some with orange hairs, markings or metallic sheens. I could only identify this bee to genus and even then only with the help of experts.
Fun Facts : Leioproctus bees are solitary but females may dig their nest burrows in the same vicinity as other leioproctus nests. These congregations of burrows may be recognised by the conical mounds of dirt (tumuli) around the hole representing the soil removed to build the vertical shaft. Some of the larger species of Leioproctus can have nest burrows extending over one and a half metres deep . Single eggs are laid in lateral cells radiating from the end of burrow. The female Leioproctus provisions each of the ovoid-shaped cells with a solid ball of honey and pollen and plugs the chamber with soil. The larvae grow independently within the chamber with no interaction with parent. They dig their way out as adult bees.
Subfamily Hylaeinae (masked bees)
May be called masked bees because they often have bold yellow or cream face markings. Hylaeinae bees are generally small, mainly black and have shiny, almost hairless bodies. This can cause people to mistake them for small wasps.
Masked bees are difficult to distinguish to species by eye and often difficult to distinguish to genus. For the purpose of the sightings frequency graphic I’ve decided to report on the Hylaeinae bees as a one. Because of their tiny size they are easy to miss and they are varied in their nesting sites and food plant preferences. So it is impossible to predict where I will find them in my yard. I’ve never seen more than one Hylaeinae bee at a time even on profusely blossoming natives.
Yearly Sightings: July 1st – June 30
Fun Facts for Hylaeinae: Bees of this subfamily don’t have hairs (scopa) to collect pollen. The females therefore must swallow the nectar and pollen and transfer to their nests via their crops (or honey stomachs). Upon returning to her nest the female regurgitates the thick mixture to provision their brood cells. Bubbling is a process in which a bee regurgitates a drop of nectar then holds it outside to allow some water to evaporate thus thickening the nectar. The process of ‘bubbling’ is done repeatedly by many native bee species (of both sexes) but is particularly important in Hylaeinae as their storage capacity is limited by not having scopa making it vital that their honey stomachs hold concentrated nutrients.
Amphylaeus (Agogenohylaeus) sp
Scientific classification : Amphylaeus (Agogenophylaeus) sp (Credit for id Marc Newman)
When and where in yard : Only seen in the August of 2019 (2019/20 year) on the blossoming wattle in the front yard. This was a particularly abundant flowering year. We still have that wattle but it is a little worse for wear having been attacked at various times by mealy bugs and borers. There hasn’t been the degree of flowering or pollinator activity before or since.
Observations: This bee was quite leisurely in its collection of pollen. It tended to walk around rather than buzz frantically from flower to flower, like many of native bees do. This is probably due to both abundance of pollen in a small area and the hylaeinae method of pollen collection (see Fun Facts above under Subfamily Hylaeinae ). The photo above shows the relative size of a European honey bee compared with the Amphylaeus bee (approx 7mm long). Sometimes the identification of Hylaeinae bees is made easier by distinctive face markings but this bee had none to the naked eye. On examination of enlarged photos two small cream strokes between the eyes (and help from Bee aware of Native Bees fb) suggested it was a female of genus Amphylaeus (Agogenophylaeus). I wasn’t brave or expert enough to go to species but it could be A.nubilosellus or A.obscuriceps.
Fun Facts : The female Amphylaeus doesn’t live up to the ‘masked bee’ descriptor but the males of the genus certainly do. They have large cream-coloured face plates that take up the entire space between the eyes. Females of A. obsuriceps (possible id) are known to nest in the flower stalks of grass trees (Xanthorrhoea species). They dig out pith either from top of broken stalk or pierce the side of intact stalk to have a lateral entrance to the nest burrow. There may be up to 12 brood cells in a single-entrance nest and curiously these may be used by more more than one female. This semi-social behaviour is rare in the Colletidae family.
Scientific classification: Hylaeus sp.
- ?Hylaeus (Euprosopellus) certus (very tentative)
2. Hylaeus (Hylaeorhiza) nubilosus (Credit for id Kit Prendergast)
When and where in yard: The Hylaeus bees I’ve been able to photograph have all been females around possible nesting holes. The species (1) in main image, above, is probably the same as those taken later that year in same area based on face markings. I have put a tentative id of H.certus based on face markings and position of antennae (see https://michaelbatley.github.io/Bee-ID-SH/main.htm ) but there are a few Hylaeus bees that look similar. These females appeared to be scouting for nesting sites. They were exploring shallow nail holes/gaps in paling fence and a stake resting on a barbeque – not intentional bee hotels. The other hylaeus bees I observed in the summer of 2020/21 appeared to making their nests in an abandoned potter wasp nest on brickwork near our back door. The mud wasp ‘pots’ have been long abandoned (about 6 years) so I am glad I kept forgetting to clean them off.
Observations: The hylaeus bees seen around the wooden holes quickly flew in and out so probably found the holes unsatisfactory nesting sites. The hylaeus bees at the old mudwasp nest (photographed Nov 20 and Jan 21) appeared to have built their own nests in and between the mud ‘pots’ with a coarser granules. The shape of the pale face markings and the habit of building nests in old mud wasps pots indicate that this is Hylaeus nubilosus. I wouldn’t have made the first sighting of this tiny bee at all had it not been for the Gasteruptiid wasp hovering around. When the Hylaeus left the mud nest the Gasteruptiid wasp landed and appeared to be inspecting carefully with its antennae – possibly searching for the vibrations of bee larvae. Eventually the wasp decided on one of the areas of coarser mud and pierced it with her ovipositor. I observed another female Hylaeus (H) nubilosus female going in an out of a hole on underside of metal outdoor chair. It is slightly frustrating that I now have three insect hotels with some very small nesting cavities (drilled in hardwood and bamboo) and so far the Hyaleus bees I’ve observed seem to favour, dangerous possibly temporary locations – a piece of wood resting on barbeque, old crumbly wasp nests and a chair that gets moved and hosed regularly.
Fun Facts: The Gasteruptiidae family of wasps lay their eggs into the brood cells of a variety of solitary bees and wasps. However Hylaeus bee nests are the most commonly predated by these distinctive looking wasps. They lay their eggs into occupied brood cells. When the wasp larvae hatch they consume bee eggs or larvae and the nectar/pollen provisions.
Scientific Name: Meroglossa sp (Credit for id Kit Prendergast)
When and where in yard: Only photographed on one day in late summer 2020 on Callistemon (Perth Pink Bottlebrush).
Observations: It was quite difficult to get a clear shot of such a small bee crawling amongst he long filaments of the bottlebrush flowers. Curiously I observed the Meroglossa, gathering a few filaments together with her legs, presumably so she could ingest pollen from several anthers at once. The bee had distinctive (although not completely diagnostic) rectangular head marking capped by semi-circular marking.
Fun Facts : Sometimes the face markings of Hylaeinae bees are diagnostic of a species (try to get those headshots for id), however this bee is a little confusing. Kit Prendergast, generous bee scientist and admin on Bees in Burbs FB, favours Meroglossa impressifrons penetrata but says she would need a specimen to be certain. The head markings are consistent with M.penetrata (as seen on PADIL.gov.au) but the back markings are a little different. I wasn’t going to get too deeply into finicky ids but wanted to show you my reasonings for lack of clear species on this one. Both bees have the collar markings (blue arrow) described in M.impressifrons penetrata but my bee appears to lack the small triangular markings shown by pink arrow. Thank you to PADIL for image (although it stands for Pest and Disease Image Library, it is also a resource for pollinator ids)
Meroglossa nests have been observed in plant stems and dead wood. Some nests have been discovered in old beetle borer holes.
Halicitds are sometimes called ‘sweat bees’ because they are attracted to perspiration – however I have never made this observation and haven’t seen reports of this behaviour in Australian bees. They are typically ground-nesting bees although some are known to burrow into rotting wood. One of the most striking observations and oft photographed behaviours of Halictids is the communal night roosting of males. These aggregations of male bees may be just a few or hundreds of individuals. They can be seen clinging to stems in a row or even in bulky clusters holding on to each other.
Scientific name: Lassioglossum (Chilalictus) sp (Credit for id Ken Walker)
Yearly Sightings: July 1st – June 30
When and where in yard : Individual female bee/s seen on the Hardenbergia violacea sporadically during its flowering period in Spring 2019. This is a small/medium sized bee. It was often seen at the same time as Lipotriches was foraging on the Hardenbergia. Lassioglossum sp was seen on no other plant so when the Hardenbergia ceased flowering in summer it wasn’t observed at all. The same Hardenbergia flowered in 2020 spring but no Lipotriches or Lasioglossum sp were observed on it.
Observations: It took be a quite a while to confidently tell the difference between the Lassioglossum (Ch) and Lipotriches (Au) in my garden but apart from appearance differences (see below) I came to recognise the difference in their flying patterns. The Lassioglossum was a very light, fast flier almost like a small fly. Whereas the Lipotriches had more of a stop/start sort of flight more like a typical bee. Appearance-wise the Lasioglossum was a little stouter and their abdominal stripes were indented whereas the stripes of Lipotriches sat on surface. The Lipotriches in the sunlight often have a golden hue and has red wing attachments. None of these observations are relevant for all species of Lipotriches (Au) or Lasioglossum (Ch) as they are both very diverse groups. Particularly Chilalictus subgenus with over 130 species of varying appearance – some even have brown/red stripes and others exhibit blue/green iridescent colouration.
Fun Facts : It is thought that most species of Chilalictus subgenus engage in communal ground nesting. This is different than the social honeybee nest, where there is a division of labour within the hive or the purely solitary habits of many ground and cavity nesting native bees . In communal nesting each female looks after own brood and brood cells but shares common tunnels and nesting sites. These communal sites have been observed to have relatively few aggressive interactions and include unrelated females.
Scientific name: Lipotriches (Austronomia) (Credit for id Ken Walker)
Yearly Sightings: July 1st – June 30
When and Where in yard: Lipotriches (Au) is the most commonly seen native bee in my backyard. It is a generalist forager and I’ve seen them feeding or collecting pollen on following flowers: mint, Hardenbergia (native pea), cucumber, clover, cornflower, lucerne, buckwheat, tomato, daisy, basil and oregano. I’ve also photographed individuals exhibiting bubbling behaviour (see Fun Facts Hylaeinae) while resting on stems or leaves of plants that are often not their food plants. My favourite photo from all my bee photos was taken in the late afternoon in February 2021. The photo show four male roosting lipotriches on the oregano plant (see under observations below)
Observations: Even though they are small bees they are good to photograph due to their tendency to stay a few moments on flowers and to come to rest while bubbling. The cream/yellow hair of the abdominal bands lays flat against abdomen (adpressed). A coppery integument and a dusting of pollen can give this Lipotriches (Au) species a golden colour in sunlight. In many of the species of the Austronomia subgenus the males have a distinctive bump on their hind femur. I was lucky enough to capture a photograph showing this unusual feature of the male hind leg (see above on cornflower). In 2020/21 not only does it appear that it was a bad year for humanity but also it appears for ground-nesting bees in my backyard. Whereas seeing no Leioproctus or Lasioglossum is a little concerning it is not so significant because those sightings were rare or absent in other years. Lipotriches did arrive in my backyard eventually but weren’t regularly sighted till late December and possibly because there were many dull and rainy days through January. On those days all bee activity was reduced. Frequent sightings in other years (I do financial years so to include a whole summer in each period) began in Oct and went through to March. I can only speculate as to reason for lower numbers of ground-nesting bees in 2020/21 – perhaps the smoky bushfire season of 2019/20 affected success of nesting bees, or maybe the cool spring of 2020 was to blame for late hatching. My biggest thrill was to capture the roosting behaviour of Lipotriches males in the late summer of 2021. This was only a small foursome (roosting groups can number in hundreds). Interestingly they began roosting around 3.30 in the afternoon with jostling, bubbling, coming and going until finally they stilled around 5 pm – long before the sun went down in daylight savings time of 7.45 pm. The next day they remained sleepy
Fun Facts: Lipotriches bees are one of the genera (others include Lasioglossum and Amegilla sp.) that employ buzz pollination on certain flowers. Honeybees (and most Megachiles) cannot buzz-pollinate making many native bee species important both commercially and environmentally. Buzz-pollinated flowers typically have long tubular anthers that deliver pollen through a pore or slit these include Dianella, Hibbertia, Senna ( in legume family) and Solanum (include tomatoes). To release the dry pollen, a bee will wrap it’s body around the anthers and shiver its wings. You can hear the change in frequency of the buzzing (faster and higher). Lipotriches are bit small to hear the change in the buzzing tone but definitely can be heard in Amegilla bees eg Blue-banded bees. Buzz-pollination is often called sonification because of this sound of the rapidly beating wings. The pollen released by the vibration is collected onto the underside of the bee. I noticed in the Lipotriches, when sonicating the tomato plant the red tip on the abdomen became more prominent.
Megachile (Cavity nesting bees)
The Megachile genus is a very diverse group but there are many species in this genus that look similar. A medium-sized bee with an abdomen showing white hairy stripes and a wide head is a common appearance, Many show either brown/red facial hair and/or abdomen tips. It is sometimes hard to distinguish to species level by sight.
Most megachiles make their nests in existing cavities. These nests may be lined with pieces of leaves (the leaf- cutters) or plant resins (resin bees). Leaf pulp, mud and plant fibres may also be used as nesting material. Females of the Megachiles often have modified mandibles (outer mouth parts) in order to collect and carry nesting material to their chosen nest cavity. The Megachiles are the type of bees often attracted to man-made bee hotels made of bamboo tubes or wood with drilled holes although, insect hotels more often attract the resin Megachiles. Leaf-cutters’ nests are less dependent on a solid rounded cavity as the leaves themselves are fashioned into a tube.
I have split the Megachiles into leaf-cutters and resin bees. This is based both on my own observations of nest-building and published behaviour of bees of the same morphology. This is not always a clear-cut division because some bees use leaves (macerated or pieces) in combination with resins to plug cavities for their brood cells. Only the species I believe to curl leaves and shape into a tubular nest, will be placed in the leaf-cutters.
Scientific Classification: Megachile (Eutricharaea) sp The majority appear to be Megachile (Eutricharaea) serricauda (from Sydney megachilids – https://michaelbatley.github.io/Bee-ID-SM/main.htm) and a few sightings of Megachile (Eutricharaea) maculariformis
The following two images taken in my backyard have matching features to the leaf-cutter bees described in, The Bee Hotel Guide by Megan Halcroft and Michael Batley as M.serricauda and M.maculariformis. Some of the images in this section however I couldn’t confidently id, particularly the males.
Yearly sightings: July 1st to June 30th
When and where in yard: The majority of leaf-cutters in my garden appear to be generalists when it comes to feeding and collecting pollen. They particularly like the open-centred flowers eg Cosmos, native daisies, cornflowers, cucumber flowers, chamomile, scaveola but they were also observed feeding on lavender, basil, salvia and lucerne and ‘farmer’s friends’ weed (Bidens pilosa) . The earliest I’ve seen Megachiles foraging is November (late spring). They are most commonly seen in January and then sightings drop off quite quickly in February. In 2018-19 and 2019-20 summer there were more Megachiles about earlier and evidence of ‘leaf-cutting’ could be seen on the wisteria vine, although I didn’t observe the females in action. In 2021 I saw my first Megachile (a male) in second week of January. In mid-January 2021 I observed female/s cutting the leaves of the Hardenbergia and many tell-tale cut-outs on the leaves. Interestingly no cuttings were seen on the wisteria in 2020/21 which grows alongside (and intermingled with) the Hardenbergia. Perhaps the Hardenbergia is preferred nest-building leaf (it wasn’t well established till late 2019) or perhaps it is a different species preference. M.maculariformis was only seen over a period of a week in early Jan 2020 – it may have been the same bee observed on consecutive days – only seen feeding on basil.
Observations: Female leaf-cutter bees typically have a leaf-shaped body ie the abdomen comes to a rounded point. The females have dense layer of hair (scopa) on underside of abdomen that is often laden with yellow pollen. The males are smaller and have square-ended abdomens. The males like to come to rest on high flat surfaces (scouting for females?), often with their wings folded back. Many of my photos of males show them resting on horizontal leaves, the edges of pots and the wooden top of my home-built insect hotel (see picture of this hotel under resin bees). Although most of the males seem to have the markings of M. serricauda the variation in hair colour is quite marked including orangy-brown, grey and white. Morphological traits of male serricauda species (see below) could be identified on some cropped photos – but these impossible to see with naked eye
Megachiles are quite good to photograph while feeding as they love to land on open flowers which allow a good view of the bee. However it can be frustrating trying to catch the leaf-cutting behaviour. After many hours of staring at the Hardenbergia vine in Jan 2021 I finally managed to take some action shots. The bee’s choice of which leaf to cut seems to be a very finicky process. I’ve watched the female leaf-cutters land on the edge of leaf after leaf before either flying off (perhaps to find another plant) or finally choosing the right leaf. Once chosen, the process of cutting takes only a few seconds. The shape of the cutting is a neat-edged semi-circle – often several in one leaf. Sometimes there is a little curl at the end of the cutting. As the female cuts she folds the leaf disc underneath and grasps it between her legs in preparation for ferrying to the nest under construction. Unfortunately I have never seen an actual nest but you can find pictures on-line.
Below: Male megachiles in my garden (notice the blunt-ended abdomens)
Fun Facts: Leaf cutters may build their nests in dead wood, crevices in rocks and buildings, plant stems and holes in the ground. Some more unusual observations have been of leafcutter bees nesting in spider holes (while spider living there), in towels or clothes left outside and even water taps. Leaves favoured by leaf-cutters for nest material include – Wisteria, Buddleia (Butterfly bush), roses and plants in pea family (eg the Hardenbergia). Once the female arrives at the nest site, she curls the leaf pieces to make a tube and glues them together with saliva. The female provisions the cell with a paste of honey regurgitated from the crop (honey stomach) and pollen. She forms the paste into a ball and lays her egg on top then seals off the cell with additional leaves. Each cylindrical nest has several brood cells built end on end (linear series). Over winter the larvae develop, spin a cocoon and pupate into adult bee before breaking their way out of the cell the following spring/summer.
The Resin Bees
Megachile lucidiventris (Bright-tailed Resin Bee*)
- Note on common name – I borrowed this common name from the inaturalist website (https://www.inaturalist.org/) but haven’t seen it used elsewhere. This name is, I suppose, derived from the latin of lucid-i-ventris – which roughly translates as ‘shining stomach’ hence, ‘bright-tailed.’ I’m not sure if this relates to the mostly shiny, black appearance of abdomen or the sparse white hair on abdomen tip (T6 segment). Either way, other resin bees have orange hair on their ‘tail’ which I would describe as ‘brighter’. So, to avoid confusion with other bees, I have stuck with the scientific name throughout the post.
Scientific name: Megachile lucidiventris (from the The Bee Hotel Guide by Megan Halcroft and Michael Batley)
Yearly sightings: July 1st to June 30th
When and where in yard: I have only seen female M.lucidiventris bees at my insect hotels. It is a puzzle where they get resins and other nesting material, and on which flowers they forage. I have mainly observed them on the small west-facing, store-bought, insect hotel, attached to the fence. There is another larger home-built, insect hotel which faces north-west. It hasn’t been as successful as the smaller bee hotel, probably because it is too exposed and low to ground. Spiders, lizards, ants and wasps are more common occupants here. However, there have been a few resin nests built in the bamboo sections. M.lucidiventris appears to have quite a long season compared to other native bees. By mid-October most of the nests built the previous spring/summer show ‘hatching’ holes. Nest building activity is in full-swing in early November and continues till mid-February. It is difficult to tell how many female resin bees are responsible for the half-dozen or more nests in the insect hotels as I generally only observe one at a time involved in nest building. I did observe three female bees around the small insect hotel in early November 2020. They appeared to be patrolling on and around the insect hotel. There was some in-flight skirmishing, perhaps fighting for the right to claim the hotel. However a M.lucidiventris and an M.ferox bee (see below) were nest-building at the same time in Jan 2021 without any apparent rivalry. Perhaps because M.ferox was occupying a hole too small for the larger M.lucidiventris. These bees took quite a while to ‘find’ the small insect hotel and weren’t present until mid-summer 2019. Handsome orange and black mud wasps were the first nesting residents in the autumn of 2018 and occupied over a dozen holes but they disappeared by 2020-21 season and the resin bees are now the main residents.
Observations: The female M.lucidiventris is a medium/large bee (slightly larger than a honey bee) with a long cylindrical body – particularly evident when in flight. She has a shiny black abdomen and brown tinted wings. There are thick white hairs on her face, fringed around thorax and on the first and part of the second segment of abdomen (T1 and T2). The scopal hairs (underneath abdomen) are white.
The nest-building process is fascinating to watch. The female bee works tirelessly for days ferrying nesting material and pollen and working on sealing the brood cells. M.lucidiventris bees favour the bamboo stems of medium diameter – 7-10mm for their nests. At night the female rests either in the nest under construction or in one of the other tubes. Nesting material not only consists of the red resin, but also M.lucidiventris was seen carrying woody plant material to incorporate into inner nest layers (see picture below). The nest is always sealed with red resin (see small insect hotel above) flush with the edge of the bamboo hole or even protruding slightly. The resin is bright red when first added but darkens over time. For M.lucidiventris, a nest from start to finish takes a few days to a week. This seems to be weather dependent as on cool or rainy days there isn’t much activity. In Nov 2019 a female resin bee was building her nest at the same time the mud wasps were hatching. A single wasp patrolled the insect hotel and ‘attacked’ the wasps as they emerged from their mud nests. I’ll discuss this more in the wasp section but I suspect, in fact, the patrolling wasp was a male lying in wait and mating with female wasps as soon as they hatched. The mud wasp and resin bee paid little heed to one another as the resin bee built her nest. On occasions the mud wasp even appeared to move out of the way to let the resin bee access her hole.
Fun Facts: The male of M.lucidiventris is smaller and has orange face hair (see under Megachile Ferox for more interesting facts about linear native bee nests).
Megachile ferox (Bold Resin Bee*) (tentative id)
Note on common name: Once again I found this common name on inaturalist.org but find it quite unhelpful and non-descriptive. I understand its origins – ferox means fierce or wild in latin. Common names are only useful if they help with recognition or are so commonly used that they become part of everyday language, they are not necessarily direct translations from their latin name. I’ll use the scientific name throughout this article to avoid confusion.
Scientific name: Megachile ferox (tentative id based on Sydney megachilids – michaelbatley.github.io/Bee-ID-SM/main.htm)
Yearly sightings: July 1st to June 30th
When and where in yard: Only saw one individual, a nesting female, on the small fence-mounted insect hotel. Like M.lucidiventris, I didn’t see this bee feeding among my backyard plants, however I did see it collect mud from an area adjacent to my raised vegetable garden, nearby to the insect hotel. The nest-building by this resin bee seemed to be a very laborious procedure. She started in late December and took over two weeks to complete the a nest in one bamboo tube. By the end of January she had started a new nest in an adjacent bamboo stick but I don’t think this was ever completed. There is now a piece of grass sticking out from that hole, suggesting perhaps a grass-carrying wasp took over the nest.
Observations : There are 23 resin bee species described in The Bee Hotel Guide by Megan Halcroft and Michael Batley and many of them look similar but the following features of the female bee I observed made me favour M.ferox.
- Two complete white abdominal (metasomal) hair bands and one incomplete band (T1)
- Orange hairs covering last two segments of abdomen
- Obvious white spots on top of thorax, two at back and two at front.
- Sparse white hair on face.
- Medium-sized (around 12mm)
As I have already said, the nest building process was slow but also puzzling. In the process of building her nest the bee would frequently enter another bamboo hole adjacent to the small nest hole (6mm diameter). I thought at first she may have been storing nesting material there or maybe using some of the mud left by an old mud wasp resident. However, I sometimes observed her visiting the hole after working on her main nest and subsequently flying off. It is possible she was building two nests at once but if so, she didn’t ever seem to complete the second nest. The building materials used were different from M.lucidiventris. They seemed to be mainly mud (sometimes rolled into a ball) with layers of translucent green plant material. The nest cap is about 3mm inside the entrance and once the green plant fades it looks like granular brown resin. The photos below show fresh nest cap and a nest cap after month (shot with flash to accentuate).
Fun facts: The following facts regarding nest organisation refer to solitary native bees that build their brood cells in linear series – that is end on end in a single row. This includes the leaf-cutter and resin Megachiles but also many ground and plant stem/wood nesting bees.
The deeper brood cells in the bamboo tube nests of the resin bees were too dark see their contents (although you can see pictures of nest cross-sections and nests built in transparent plastic tubes online). But I wondered why I never saw the ball of yellow pollen/nectar provisions in the last cell ,before the resin bee sealed it off. The reason for this is that the last cell is always left empty (the vestibule), so in effect there is a protective double seal and a buffer for the front brood cell.
Another fascinating fact is that female (fertilized eggs) are laid first, at the back of the tube, in larger, better provisioned brood cells and the males more near the entrance. This makes evolutionary sense as the females are larger, requiring more strength and stamina for nest building. It takes longer for their larvae to grow and develop than the smaller males. The males in the front cells can pupate and emerge before the slower developing females. This nesting organisation requires the adult female to choose the sex of her eggs. By the time she is nest-building the female bee has copulated with a male bee and stores the sperm in a receptacle called the spermatheca. When she chooses to lay a female egg she releases a valve from the spermatheca into the oviduct allowing her egg to be fertilized. The fertilized egg will become a female bee. When she chooses to lay a male egg she can control the valve to remain closed. The unfertilized egg becomes a male bee.
The most recognisable bees belong to this family including the introduced European Honeybee. However whereas the honeybee lives in social hierarchical colonies most native Apids are solitary nesters. They generally excavate nests in the ground, pithy stems or wood.
There are tiny, often black, native, social apids which are stingless bees (Meliponini tribe). In nature they build complex wax and resin hives in hollow branches or rock crevices. Hives of these bees can be established or bought by hobbyists to produce small amounts of honey. I’ve never seen (or at least recognised) stingless bees in my garden. This is not surprising as, where I live in Wollongong NSW would be at the southerly part of their natural range.
Because Amegilla are the most buzzy and bee-like of the native bees the question of – Do they sting? comes up more often than other native bees. The reality is – most native bees (both long-tongued and short-tongued) can sting – with the exception of the stingless bees mentioned above. The severity of the sting from native bees is generally related to size and the bad news is, they can sting more than once, unlike the honeybee which loses its stinger and its life upon stinging. The good news is, native bees aren’t aggressive and rarely sting. Native bee stings have been reported to illicit allergic reactions5 but because stinging behaviour is uncommon these instances are rare. Honeybee stings, wasp stings and even ants stings are a far more common cause of anaphylaxis.
Scientific name : Amegilla (Zonamegilla) sp. I favour Amegilla (Zonamegilla) asserta for most if not all the blue-banded bees in my garden, (Identification derived from PaDil.gov.au)
Note on common name : This can be a misleading as the blue colour of the banding on the abdomen may be very subtle or absent. The blue-banded common name is used for species within the Zonamegilla and Notomegilla subgenus but they vary in their ‘blueness’ both between species and also within species. However, it is the most well-known native bee name and the appearance of this common-name group is quite distinctive so I will stick with the common name for this post as long as we are wary of its flaws.
Yearly sightings: July 1st to June 30th
When and where in yard: Blue-banded bees seem to have a short active season in my garden. Mainly spotted in Jan and never earlier than December and and rarely later than March. They like the blue/purple coloured flowers such as rosemary, salvia (only grew this in 2018-19), borage and lucerne but I have also seen them on the Callistemon (Perth Pink), basil, tomato and once on a pansy. As with most other ground-nesting bees their numbers were down in the 20-21 season.
Observations : Blue-banded bees are medium-sized, shorter than a honeybee (about 11mm) and wide (chubby). They are easily spotted as they generally have a loud buzz, jerky stop/start flight and a seemingly un-aerodynamic ball-like shape. However they are not so easy to photograph as they tend to spend very little time at each flower. Sometimes barely touching the blooms. They have brown or grey thorax hair, green eyes, white/blue abdominal bands of adpressed hair and a wide thick tongue (proboscis) to reach deep into flowers. I favour the identification of Amegilla (Z) asserta for the blue-banded bees in my garden as the face markings of males and females (see above) most closely resemble those on PaDIL.gov.au for A.asserta. Also I noted the female has a small white spot on the tip of her abdomen, typically seen in the asserta bee.
Both the male and female have white hairs on their leg. The scopal (pollen-collecting) hairs on the female are on her hind leg and sometimes I photographed these laden with yellow pollen. Several times I witnessed buzz pollinating behaviour (see, Fun Facts, under Lipotriches) on the tomato. When the BB bee wrapped its abdomen around the anthers of the tomato flower there was a noticeable change in buzz pitch (higher) as they shake the pollen free.
In last day of Jan 2019 I observed a male bee that was worse for wear, flying around the salvia plant. He no longer buzzed as his wings were so tattered. He eventually rested on a dead salvia stem using his jaws to cling to the stem.
Only once did I see a blue-banded bee use a potential nesting burrow. This was in a dirt area in the front yard with some scattered scoria rock. I didn’t manage to photograph the bee entering but later took a picture of the hole which was sheltered by two rocks. Finer dirt can be seen at the entrance which had likely been excavated by the female bee.
Fun Facts: You can impress friends with you ability to tell the difference between male and female blue-banded bees although this isn’t easy with the naked eye.
|Male Blue-banded Bee||Female Blue-banded Bee|
|5 abdominal hair bands||4 abdominal hair bands|
|More solid yellow on face||Large black markings on face|
Like Lipotriches bees male blue-banded bees gather to roost at night in groups. Instead of clinging on to the stem with their legs, as Lipotriches do, they grip stem/grass with their jaws (as the poor old fella pictured above).
Blue-banded bees are ground nesters. They may dig out holes in sand, clay or even in mortar substrates. These nest holes may be horizontal, vertical or in-between. Some people have had success with using pots/tubes/cans filled with clay and poked with holes to provide nesting sites. However these are more hit/miss than the resin bee insect hotels. If you want to know more about this Kit Prendergast (Bees in the Burbs Facebook) has written an excellent guide called Creating a Haven for Native Bees.
Teddy Bear Bees
Scientific name : Amegilla (Asaropoda) bombiformis
Yearly sightings: July 1st to June 30th
When and where in yard: The teddy bear bees in my yard are fairly specialist in their feeding. In a corner of my backyard there is a Callistemon (Perth Pink) and a Lilly Pilly. These soft-spike blossoming plants are where I have sighted the teddy bear bee most often. I’ve seen an individual only once on a Wisteria flower and a few times on Salvia flowers, I grew for a brief time. (I’m aiming to plant more natives now). The Lilly Pilly appears to be their favourite but it only flowers from February to April here in my Southern NSW backyard. Coinciding with the blossoming of the Lilly Pilly the teddy bear bee sightings are seen mostly in February. Unfortunately the Lilly Pilly blossoms are very fragile, so a strong wind or heavy downpour (common occurrence in February) can destroy them. So lack of food plants, I think, is one of the reasons I don’t see TB bees so often. My aim in the future is to grow more teddy bear bee-friendly native plants (see Fun Facts), hoping this will encourage more of these gorgeous bees to my garden.
Observations: Teddy bear bees are the largest bees in the garden – around same length as a honeybee (15mm) but wider. Their chubbiness and golden-brown hair earns them the teddy bear name. But far from been slow and cumbersome, they are probably the hardest bee to photograph. They never seem to stay still, buzzing loudly as they dart from flower to flower. Sadly the only Teddy Bear I take a detailed photo of was a dying one. I am not sure what happened but I heard a small thud above my head as I was bending down to look at something in the grass and saw a Teddy Bear bee land in front of me. I gently put a stick underneath it (so the photo below is not a natural position) and lifted from the rocks but it remained unmoving. I am not sure what hit it – perhaps a bird or dragonfly but it didn’t recover. I used the photo because it is such a magnificent-looking bee with very thick hair on body and legs. The difference between male and female bees is not as clear cut as in blue-banded bees. The males have seven dark abdominal bands and females have six but but these are hard to discern in photos because of their curled body and amount of fur on the abdomen. If you can get a front-on shot, the females have a more hairy orange face and males a yellow face plate. I am sure that experts would tell the difference from leg shape but I’m not confident even after studying specimens on PaDil database.
Fun Facts: Teddy Bear Bees have a lot in common with their fellow Amegilla bees, the blue-banded bees. They are ground-nesters, they can buzz-pollinate and and rest by clinging to stems with their jaws. Roosting male teddy bear bees tend to be in smaller groups than the blue-banded bees. A single group of roosting blue-banded males can number over fifty whereas teddy bear bees are seen singly or in small groups less than five.
It doesn’t always follow that native bees favour native plants and teddy bear bees are no exception – they love a lot of purple/pink exotic species – like Salvia, Buddleia, Duranta (Geisha Girl), Blue Ginger, Basil, Agastache as well as white exotic flowers like Abelia (can come in pink forms) and Guava flowers. However if you like to plant natives, like me, I’ve seen images of Teddy Bear bees visting Westringia, Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora), Kangaroo Apple (Solanum aviculare) and of course Lilly Pilly and Callistemon (Bottlebrush) which were the favourites in my garden.
Thyreus (cuckoo bees)
The dastardly but beautiful bees of genus Thyreus are brood parasites. That is – they lay their eggs in the nests of other bee species. This allows their own larvae to feed off the collected pollen in the host nest and perhaps even consume the host eggs themselves. All known Thyreus hosts are bees of Amegilla species.
Neon Cuckoo Bee
- Houston, Terry (2018). A guide to native bees of Australia. Clayton South Vic: CSIRO Publishing.
- Prendergast, Kit. Creating a Haven for Native Bees (purchased google doc)
- Padil.gov.au: https://www.padil.gov.au/pollinators/search?queryType=all
- Batley, Michael. Sydney megachilid. https://michaelbatley.github.io/Bee-ID-SM/main.htm
- Batley, Michael. Sydney hylaeine. https://michaelbatley.github.io/Bee-ID-SH/main.htm
- Aussie Bee https://www.aussiebee.com.au/
- Dollin, Anne, Batley, Michael, Robinson, Martyn and Faulkner, Brian. Native bees of the Sydney region (3rd ed) – ebook
- Halcroft, Megan and Batley, M. (2014) The bee hotel id guide. University of Western Sydney
- Morris B, Soutcott R.V, Gale A.E. Effects of stings of Australian native bees https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3200198/
- Bee aware of your native bees (Facebook group)
- Bees in the burbs (Facebook group)