Local insects and animals – social native bees

We have social native bees at the humpy. They have been visiting the garden since we moved here. I do love to see them busily picking over flowers or having a drink at the rock tray in the garden, they remind me that life holds a lot of joy. They always seem so happy in their work.

Australia has 1700 (approximately) species of native bee. Some are the familiar stingless, social bees, others are solitary species who only talk to another bee for mating purposes.

We see many species of native bee in our garden, both solitary and social. The species I am talking about today is Tetragonula Carbonaria (the Sugarbag bee). These little beauties build a spiral shaped hive and have an irritating bite, but no sting.

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We have a tray filled with rocks in our garden on a low pedestal which is regularly topped up with water. This is our insect watering station, for bees and other insects that need water during the dry months. The honey bees love to gather here and have a cool drink; they buzz and struggle to be the first to the water. I often sit nearby and listen to the buzzing and squabbling. The native bees are quieter and more patient; they can be seen earlier in the morning, in the cool of dawn, having a quiet drink before work. They do make a noise, but, like so much of Australia’s wildlife, they are understated and require a bit of work to notice. If you are still and silent yourself, you can sometimes hear the subsonic vibration that is the native bee buzz.

These little bees pollinate tropical crops such as macadamia, mango and watermelon. Something that was surprising to me when I first started learning about different species of bees, was that individual species are better at pollinating certain flowers. Some species are evolved to pollinate a certain flower shape (or is that co-evolved?) efficiently, for example; solenaceae family (potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum, chilli, etc) plants are best pollinated by ‘buzz pollination’ which needs the bee to be heavy and rounded and a little clumsy to get the best effect. Honey bees, Blue banded bees and Bumblebees are all good at buzz pollination. The small, delicate and gentle social native bee is not so good at pollinating tomatoes, they are designed to get their small bodies into narrow and deep flowers, like the mango or macadamia flower. That small fact is why we need the many species of native bee to survive and thrive; without all those different pollinators, we run the risk of losing fertilisation of many plant species (some we eat and others that support non-human species).

We grow some annual flowers in our funeral forest, to encourage insects and to enjoy the colour and joy that flowers bring. We also grow as many vegetables as the season and our time limits allow, to make use of those insect pollinators we attract.

Tomato flowers in Spring
Elder flowers, theses are perfect for native social bees
A small patch of green vegetables, just because they make me happy
Peaches on our peach tree, Honey bees are the most important pollinator of this kind of fruit tree

Consider putting a tray of rocks out for insects to drink from, in long dry periods, it could be the difference between surviving and dying for many insects in your garden. We need all the species around us to survive, I am not equipped to pollinate flowers all day, are you?

2 thoughts on “Local insects and animals – social native bees

  1. Loving this post. One of the key drivers that we have for the croft is increasing the biodiversity of the land and encouraging wildlife and insects. The hebridean Isles are one of the few places left I think in the UK for several species of bumblebee and honeybee, despite its northern latitude, mainly I suspect because the land is so uncultivated. Great that you encourage the same in a very different natural environment. We all need to do our bit, however small. 😘

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