Recognising Native Bees

Posted by on August 31, 2014

The future depends on what you do today



Tomorrow, 1 September, is the first day of Spring – ‘YAH’, so this weeks post is designed to give a big plug to the busy little insects who are responsible for 60% of our food and crops – the Bees. If we are all going to protect these important little insects (and they desperately need us to), we first need to be able to recognise them.

Would you be able to tell the difference between a Native Bee and a Fly, or would you reach for a fly swat or can of insecticide spray regardless?

There are around 1,500 species of Native Bees in Australia. The above feature picture is a Native Stingless Bee, aka Tetragonula Carbonaria, from the colony which live in our back garden. This species is found in the more tropical climates of Northern and Eastern Australia as they prefer warmer environments. This curious little bee (yes alive) was, during the colder winter months, less active and therefore quite sociable. When it landed on my arm long enough to photograph, it struck me how similar they look to flies and the idea for this post was born.

Australian Native Bees are small black bees which grow to about 4mm long and, if you get up close enough, you will see they have an even coating of thick white fur on the sides of their body and faces. These bee’s traditionally make their homes in hollow logs where hundreds, sometimes thousands, can live together in a productive colony. They produce less than one litre of honey per year, called ‘Sugarbag’, so their primary role is as pollinators.

This picture shows how they pack pollen into round balls. The day these photo’s were taken was firstly so incredibly exciting – it was just awesome watching them buzzing around busily transporting their little treasure. The photo on the bottom left shows them carrying a single ball of resin out of their nest and the photo on the bottom right shows them carrying two yellow balls of pollen, on their hind legs, into the nest. Another activity we have witnessed them doing is carrying dead bees out of the hive and disappearing with them over the side – so they are both respectful and good housekeepers.

Australian Flies

Now for Flies
Depending on which article you read, there are between 20 – 30,000 different species of flies in Australia – these are two of them. According to the Aussie Bee website  you can tell these two insects apart by noticing Bees have four wings and Flies only have two. This photo is a good visual to refer to just in case you have trouble counting the wings while the insect in question is annoyingly flying around your head!

What you might not know about flies is they, along with a range of other insects, have the important responsibility of assisting the bees with pollinating native plants and crops. So as frustrating as they can be, we are actually relying on them as well, to a certain extent, for our food.

European Honey Bee
The last photo is of a European Honey Bee; most people have no difficulty seeing the differences between this and a fly. We have all grown up with the understanding that it is best to stay clear of this little fella as, unlike our curious little Native Bees, the black and yellow variety does punch a good ‘sting’. Never-the-less these bees remains extremely valuable because of their dual role of pollinator and sole producer of large amounts of honey.

Now I’m no David Attenborough but, after spending time watching the comings and goings of our little Native Bee Colony, my interest in their activities and resolve to help protect them, has grown. ‘Recognising Native Bees’ is the second article I have written about these important little creatures. If you are curious as to how we came about to have Native Bees as pets, are interested to see photos of our hive, are keen to have your own hive or just generally want to know more about these valuable Australian insects, you can follow this link to my first article ‘Bee Cause’, which will fill you in with all I have learnt so far.

Hopefully this ongoing information will help inspire you to keep your eyes out and protect these valuable little creatures. Who knows, maybe one day it might even entice you to house a hive of your own! (Let me know if you do so we can compare observations.)

Any new snippets of information I come across, including places to buy, or even support local bees and bee keepers in general, will be uploaded on the CWMS Facebook page. Feel free to share stories and pictures of any Bee experiences you have had which might be helpful for others.

Enjoy the first week of Spring everybody (those living in the Southern Hemisphere that is…!)

– Shea

P.S. No animals were harmed for the purpose of capturing photos for this story. The little Native Bee paid me a visit on its own accord and the other insects were all found ‘dead’ and are now treasures in our Little Man’s Bug and Insect Collection. Now all that is left to do is to ‘Do a Bug Count’, which is a game recomended by Planet Ark. You can read more about that and other everyday nature activities from a link posted on CWMS Facebook page last week.

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8 Responses to Recognising Native Bees

  1. Brendan

    Great photos. Thanks for the interesting read.

    • Shea

      Thanks Brendan, glad you enjoyed the read.
      I was so chuffed with the photo’s I must say!! 🙂

  2. anna

    Very clever photography and a great article on a very important topic

    • Shea

      Thank you Anna, am surprising myself at how passionate and protective I am becoming about bees…:-)

  3. Heather

    This is interesting, I would have never known! Thanks for the post.

    • Shea

      Hi Heather,
      Your very welcome – I always love having a chat about bees… 🙂

  4. Nicky Bryce

    This is awesome! I totally LOVE bees and incidentally honey 😉 However, I am also really allergic to bees. Have often thought I would love to ‘bee keep’ but – well, allergies. Was actually considering going with native ones due to no sting factor……x

    • Shea

      Hi Nicky and thank you so much for stopping by. Not long after we acquired our bees I discovered and began following, a very passionate bee keeper on social media. Sarah’s site is called Bee Yourself Australia and the discoveries she posts are truly fascinating. Not sure where you are in the world, but she is a wealth of knowledge. Hope that’s helpful…

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