Local insects and animals- Blue banded bee

A while ago now (at least a couple of months), I found a sweet little bee buzzing to get out of a window at work. On close inspection it appeared she had blue stripes. This was a Blue Banded bee, one of Australia’s 1500 species of native bee.

These little bees are solitary; meaning that the females will dig a burrow for herself and lay her eggs alone. They can often be seen living in bee villages as they will dig their burrows close together, however they do not co-operate with other bees and do not form a hive. I guess you could say they are anarchists as they don’t recognise any form of government.

Blue Banded bees are essential to Australia’s ecology as they pollinate certain species of plants using ‘buzz pollination’; they essentially shake the pollen out of closed pollen capsules by holding the flower and trying to fly off. They are also very efficient at pollinating the solonaceae family of plants; tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum, chilli, potato, etc. Without these little bees we would not have the huge tomato crops we have in Australia.

They are eaten by the usual list of birds and reptiles (which varies from place to place) and have one really interesting parasite; the Neon Cuckoo bee. The Neon Cuckoo bee is also a solitary native bee, the females of the species lay their eggs in the burrows of the Blue Banded bee. When the egg hatches it eats all the food gathered by the Blue Banded bee and the intended recipient dies of starvation.

Because the Blue Banded bee builds a burrow to lay her eggs in, she needs a nice, malleable clay base. I try to leave some areas of bare soil in my garden especially for these little bees as mulching heavily reduces the real estate market for burrows. They have also been known to burrow into mud brick and cob buildings, and can cause a lot of damage in large numbers.

This particular bee was a female; apparently females have four blue stripes and males have five. Another difference between the sexes is that males sleep by clamping their mandibles (jaws) around a stalk of grass and hanging like fruit for the night while females will either sleep in their burrows or curl up inside a flower or leaf bed.

This particular bee was carefully eased out of the window space she found herself in and released into the wider world. I was happy to have met her close up and even happier to be able to help her on her way.

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