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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Local insects and animals – Eastern Grey Kangaroo

At one point, in the far distant past, we took on the job of macropod re-homers. This means that we rescued baby kangaroos, wallabies, possums, pademelons and other marsupials from road accidents, dog and cat attacks and other mishaps. We took these traumatised babies and tried to stabilise them, heal them and eventually release them back into the bush. We also provided a place for other wildlife carers to release their precious babies. I was going through my old photos and found a few we took of some Eastern Grey kangaroos we raised, their names were Gabby and Xena. I thought I would share our experiences.

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The Eastern Grey kangaroo (referred to as grays from here on, so as not to alarm any UFO believers out there) are a very sensitive species; they get runny, upset tummies if there is a loud thunderstorm nearby. They are fairly numerous and not considered endangered, but they get hit on the road very often and in our area they sometimes fall prey to people shooting animals to feed dogs (and sometimes themselves). We still get one or two joeys (baby macropods) handed in to us about once or twice a year, even though we don’t raise them any more. When we get them handed in to us, or find them in the pouches of their dead mothers, we put them in a nice clean pouch (an old pillow slip turned inside out, inside a beanie or other woolen pouch) and put them on a hot water bottle (warm but not hot). A call to our local wildlife rescue group usually results in a drive to meet a carer in a MacDonald’s car park somewhere, invariably in the dead of night, looking like some sort of drug deal. We have been on both sides of this transaction so many times it seems hard not to see it as normal behavior.

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Grays are delightfully cuddly animals, I enjoyed our time raising them, even though I suffered sleep deprivation and exhaustion on a huge scale. Raising a joey is not for the lazy; they need feeding at 3 hourly intervals (once they have hair) and need to be trained to toilet outside the pouch (more on this later), they need to have their pouch changed daily (or more often if the toileting won’t work). They are weighed daily and feeding is adjusted to suit weight. Eventually they are introduced to solids (fruit, vegetables, hay and kangaoo pellets) and moved outside; through the day at first then gradually to all night.

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Toileting a joey (of any species) is interesting. When a mother kangaroo/possum/etc cleans her pouch she also licks the bottom of her baby (or babies) which stimulates them to poop and pee, she licks up this waste too (a thought which makes my mouth pucker in sympathy). Humans don’t generally enjoy the taste of poop so we have to find another way to simulate natural processes. A damp chux is just the thing, after feeding a bottle, the carer gently rubs the babies cloaca (a combined anus, vagina/penis and urethra) until they pee, uses the chux to soak it up then gently rub again until the baby produces a pellet or two of poop (or a greenish toothpaste-like poo in the case of grays). Joeys need to be toileted after every feed.

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Taking on the care of a joey is not a hobby, it is much the same as raising a baby. It is a full time occupation that impacts your whole life. Macropod carers tend to love their babies and get very protective over them. Finding somewhere to release them slowly and carefully into the safest environment possible is very hard. That was our specialty; we live in a remote setting, away from heavy traffic, we have resident mobs of grays that will accept new members and we were trained in soft release.

Essentially our job was to gradually move our babies from the house to an outside pen while they were still young enough to adapt. When the joeys were living happily on two bottles a day and hard food we would start to let them roam for a few hours at dusk, then lock them back up. This time would get longer and longer until someone invariable forgot to shut the door one night. From then on we would leave the door open at night and gradually leave it open for longer periods through the day. Eventually the babies would stop returning for their bottles and only come to scrounge food every few days. Then comes the awful period of worry when they don’t come at all. For months and months, until one day, there they are again, begging for food.

Of course, some you see again, some you don’t. Some survive, some don’t, the important thing is to give them as much of a chance as we can. It is the same with all wildlife caring; we don’t own them, they come to us for a short time, for care and protection while they can’t do that themselves. It is sometimes very hard to let go, to let nature take its course, but that is the job.

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If you see a dead kangaroo (or any dead animal) on the road it is a good idea to stop and pull the body off the road a fair way to avoid secondary deaths. Other animals come to feed off the body and get hit themselves (Wedge tailed eagles are often hit this way). While you are moving the body it is a good idea to see if there is a joey in the pouch too. If there is you can often remove it (if it is hairless leave it and call the carers for advice) and put the poor baby into a cotton pouch (keep a pillow slip in the car) and get him/her to a carer as soon as possible.

Local insects and animals – Blue faced honey eater

Meet another new addition to the family; Barry. He is a blue faced honey eater,

Barry came to us from the little girl next door; she rescued him from a group of noisy miners who were beating him up after he fell or flew from his home nest. His parents were nowhere to be seen so she bought him to us. He is living with us until he learns to feed and defend himself, then he will be free to go where he pleases. The usual progression with social birds is that they hang around the humpy, getting the odd free feed when times are hard until they meet a group of their own kind and head off with them (kind of like teenagers).

Blue faced honey eaters are a social sedentary species who eat insects, nectar and pollen. They are like a large family gathering; loud, hilarious and lots of arguments. The adults have a brilliant blue around the eyes (very 70s disco queen) but juveniles have a greenish tint around the eyes, they aren’t allowed to wear eye shadow until they are about one year old.

An adult with full disco battle paint. I found this photo here

Barry is a little camera shy, but you can see his greenish eye shadow.

Barry is a late sleeper, often not waking up until well after I have fed all the outside animals, he sits with his head tucked under his wing and mutters curses at me if I poke him (gently). Once awake he demands breakfast in a loud squeaky voice until I give him some honey eater mix and meal worms. He is a playful little fellow; hanging upside down on his branches, flying in tight formations in his cage and fossicking under the newspaper on the cage floor for lost meal worms. At the moment he is spending part of each day out of his cage, flying around the humpy. Soon he will decide it is time to go out into the big world and explore the trees flowering around the place. 
This is the danger time for release birds as it is easy for them to go too far and get lost or be taken by a predator. We can’t keep them in cages forever though, they are mean’t to be free. It is with mixed feelings of joy and trepidation that I watch each one learn to live independently (much as I felt when my kids went off to uni) but most times it is joy that wins out.
On an unrelated subject, we planted a tree on Shaun’s grave. It’s a mandarine and every time I pass it I think of my little mate.
The Shaun tree

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.