Index – SHORT-TONGUED BEES : Family Colletidae (plasterer bees) : Subfamily Colletinae – Leioproctus sp., Subfamily Hylaeinae (masked bees) – Amphylaeus sp, Hylaeus sp., Meroglossa sp. Family Halictidae (sweat bees): Subfamily Halictinae – Lasioglossum (Chilalictus) Subfamily Nomiinae – Lipotriches (Austronomia)
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 in main image, above, is probably the same as those taken later that year in same area based on the same 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 the brick work.
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 by far 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 of the observed nests were built 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. Unfortunately I have never observed this in my own backyard.
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 organisation 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 by far 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. 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.
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). By the time I’m writing this blog post it is the end of December 2020 and 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 so far this summer is a little concerning it is not so significant because those sightings were rare or absent in other years. But seeing only one or two Lipotriches bees is more significant. 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’t even speculate why 2020 was so bad for Lipotriches as the plant species in my yard are much the same.
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.
Megachiles (Cavity nesting bees)
The Megachile genus are a very diverse group but also 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. It is sometimes hard to distinguish to species by sight. Also many show either brown/red facial hair and/or abdomen tips.
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) others may use mud, leaf pulp and plant fibres. 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 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 bees. Leaf-cutters nests are less dependent on a solid rounded cavity as the leaves themselves are fashioned into a tube.
I have attempted to 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 either 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 I will place in leaf-cutters.
Scientific Classification: Megachile (Eutricharaea) sp (A majority appear to be Megachile (Eutricharaea) serricauda)
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: Leaf-cutters seem to be generalists when it comes to feeding and collecting pollen but in my garden they particularly like the open-centred flowers eg Cosmos, native daisies, cornflowers, cucumber flowers, chamomile, scaveola flowers but also they were observed feeding on lavender, basil, salvia and lucerne and ‘farmers 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 blunt-ended abdomens. Feeding Megachiles are quite good to photograph as they love to land on the open flowers that 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 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. The larvae develop, spin a cocoon and pupate into adult bee before breaking their way out of the cell.