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Australian native bees

We at Wilson Botanic Park APS were fortunate in having Dr. Ken Walker do a presentation on native bees. It was a great night, and inspired our members to go and really look at their gardens to see exactly what all the critters are doing. Photos used here are with his kind permission.

In 1822 the first European honey bee arrived. While this may be seen as another ecological disaster, the bee was essential. Without the honeybee, most crops fail due to lack of pollination. It is estimated that the honeybee provides Australia with millions of dollars of free pollination services. In the USA, this is a more managed process, with hives being transported at pollination times.

photo from Ken Walker

photo from Ken Walker

 

Australia has the most unique bee fauna in the world. We also have the smallest bee at 2.1mm long, and most native bees are solitary, making the usual hive practices unworkable for honey production. Native bees actually eat the pollen and nectar, as well as packing pollen into hairs on their bodies. They use to pollen collected to produce a pollen ‘pudding’ which is placed in a nest as food for the next generation. Australian plants rely on native bees for pollination, and in turn, native bees rely on Australian plants for food.

So how can you encourage these stingless helpers into your backyard? The first thing is to provide food and water, so plant natives and exotics that produce flowers throughout the spring and summer when the bees are active. I have had blue banded bees on fuchsias, rosemary and grevilleas. Provide some water, such as shallow bowls. Don’t use chemical sprays. Lastly you may wish to provide shelter by building an insect hotel. There are plenty of ideas on the internet on design.

A bee hotel can be a few wooden blocks with holes 6 and 8mm drilled in them. Place in a sheltered area. Or a bundle of bamboo canes and spongey centred branches. Another is to have a block of clay- sand mixture or bare soil for them to burrow into as well. Different bees prefer different nest materials, so a mixture of types is probably worthwhile, as you may not be aware of all the bee visitors to your yard. 

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