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?

Local insects and animals- Elephant beetles

Look who flew into our humpy one night this week.

You can’t tell from the photo, but this is one ENORMOUS beetle. The elephant beetle, or Xylotrupes ulysses grows to an average size of 60 mm long. Our visitor was a female as she didn’t have the distinctive ‘horns’ on the front. She buzzed in like a small aircraft and proceeded to circle the light in ever diminishing spirals, when she landed we caught her for a closer look and a photo session (bug paparazzi). It is fairly rare to be able to call an insect ‘he’ or ‘she’ but the elephant beetle is sexually dimorphic (male and female look different) so it makes using the right pronoun that much easier.
Elephant beetles eat decaying organic matter so they are useful in the compost heap. The females lay about 50 eggs at a time although lots of the larval stage (white curl grubs) end up as food for foraging animals. They have a particular affinity with scrub turkey nests (big compost heaps) so I am now wondering if we have one nearby.
Adult beetles feed on new leaf shoots and have been classified as a native pest in some areas because of their habit of gathering together on specific trees (apparently this is the beetle version of a night club; where they go to find mates) resulting in damage to the tree..

She is a most impressive beetle.

Personally, I don’t see these beetles as a pest, but as just another member of my ecosystem. I plan to leave some piles of organic matter around for them to lay in and maybe harvest some grubs for the chooks at a later stage.
Have you seen these beetles where you live?

local insects and animals- Black flower wasps

Today I decided to add a new section to my blog; local insects and animals. Every so often we find an unknown insect or animal around the humpy and it causes a rush towards the book shelves and the computer to find out what it is and what it does. From now on I will add the results of these research missions to my blog (partly so I have a record of what we have already researched, as I suspect we have looked up some things more than once and forgotten the results).

Today’s bug is…….the black flower wasp

My youngest daughter captured this photo of a black flower wasp on the lantana.

Haven’t they got pretty wings.

My youngest daughter was fascinated by the lovely blue colour of the wings and by their solitary nature. According to the CSIRO these wasps are solitary wasps who are responsible for pollinating many Australian natives (and a few exotics too) they lay eggs in caterpillars to reproduce. So many Australian native insects tend to be solitary, I wonder why they have evolved this way?
Given the worrying drop in the bee population of the world, I think it is important to encourage other insects who are capable of pollinating our food crops, or we may find ourselves very hungry. While the black flower wasp is known to pollinate mostly native plants, there is so little research on them that they may also play a large part in pollinating high nectar food plants like pumpkin, melons and marrow.
They enjoy high nectar plants and undisturbed mulched areas, so make sure you have some of this habitat in your garden and you will have these delightful wasps to entertain you and help control Caterpillar populations.