All these photographs were taken in the Plains / Foothills area north of Adelaide, but the species depicted can be found across a wide range of habitats, including the metropolitan area.
They have all been observed on a variety of plants including native and exotic, with favourites being various salvias and lavenders.
Australia is home to approximately 1600 named species of native bees, and possibly the same number of species that have yet to be named. Many are not well studied, and some species face extinction due to changes in land use and habitat destruction, while others have adapted to urbanisation and are thriving.
Most species appear when the weather warms up in late spring or early summer. Female bees can be seen visiting flowers to gather nectar and pollen, moving at a much faster pace than the average European honey bee. Males will often buzz around at a great pace, chasing females or driving other males from their territories, occasionally taking a brief rest by clinging to a twig or stalk with their mandibles.
Some of the small, ground dwelling Lasioglossum species appear much earlier in spring. They can sometimes be found on chilly mornings, clinging to flowers unable to fly because they are too cold. They soon recover when the day warms up, or if you warm them in cupped hands.
Native bees go through several generations in a season, with an average lifespan thought to be around 70 days. As the weather cools in late autumn, adult bees die off, but the larvae lie dormant in their sealed nests, ready to repeat the cycle the following spring.
Those mentioned here are a few of the most commonly encountered in home gardens.
Blue banded bees (Amegilla sp.) are probably the best known, and most studied, of the native bees in our region. They are 8-13 mm long, with glittering stripes of blue or whitish hair across their black abdomens, although some species included in this description are plain brown. They seem to favour flowers in the blue / purple colour spectrum. Like many other native bees, they don’t appear until the weather warms up in late spring.Like most of our native bee species, they lead generally solitary lives. The females build nests in shallow burrows in the ground but they may also nest in mudbrick walls or in soft mortar. Each female builds her own nest burrow but many bees often nest in close proximity to one another.
Recent research has shown that blue banded bees could be valuable pollinators of greenhouse tomatoes, due to their technique of shaking flowers to release the pollen (buzz pollination). They operate at great speed, visiting many more flowers than a honey bee, over a given time.
Leafcutter bees and Resin bees (Megachile sp.) Medium to large bees, (8-12mm). The former are so called because they cut sections from leaves to line their nests, while Resin bees collect plant resins for the same purpose.A key to their identification is that Leafcutter bees do not fold their wings when alighted on a flower, whereas Resin bees do. They nest in holes in rotting timber or old nail holes in fence posts, and will happily adapt to man made pre-drilled wooden nesting blocks.
Masked bees (Hylaeus sp.) mimic wasps in colour and appearance. They are small to medium sized bees, generally black with striking yellow or orange markings. For nesting they will utilise abandoned nests of other species such as old mud-dauber wasp nests. Unlike most other bee species, they have none of the barbed hairs (scopa) used for carrying pollen, rather they carry their pollen load in their crop. For this reason they are considered somewhat poor pollinators. Their preferred foraging is on native plants.
Halictid bees – many species. These are small to medium size bees that nest in the soil. They adapt to a wide range of forage plants including introduced garden plants and weeds. Various species in this group are among the most commonly found in gardens, but are easily overlooked because of their small size.In the past, little research was done into the potential of native bees as pollinators, however ongoing studies are demonstrating their benefits to agriculture, and conservation efforts are receiving more serious attention across our agricultural regions.