Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Blue Banded Bees - Buzz Pollination

This may come as a surprise to many people throughout Australia, that there are more than one or two types of bees. Most immediately think of the Australian Honey Bee and the miniature Stingless Native Bees of the Eastern states.

Blue Banded Bees are also known as: Amegilla cingulata

I have been wanting to get into bee keeping for many years now, but my chicken addiction and the amount of children in my backyard on a daily basis don't allow for it. So my style of gardening has become very bee orientated to draw them to my garden to make sure all my food crops get well pollinated.

I credit Sophie Thomson, of Gardening Australia fame, who brought up the use of Blue Banded Bees at the this year's Royal Adelaide Show. These bees are native to every mainland state of Australia (except Tasmania) and most certainly another bee to encourage to our gardens.

I had never seen nor heard of the Blue Banded Bee until this year. These beautiful bees made their way into my garden for the first time only this week - October 2015 - visiting my front garden. The dianellas were attracting them in full sun.

Dianellas are a major food/pollen source for the Blue Banded Bee. Lucky me, that was a fluke!

I've learnt over the years that all purple flowers really attract the bees, and dianellas fit right into that group. Meanwhile, all the other standard honey bees were too busy hanging out at the lavender bushes as usual.

What are the benefits of the Blue Banded Bee?

Quite a number of our Australian plants require the visit from Blue Banded Bees, amongst many other plants as they perform a special type of service called "buzz pollination".

Buzz Pollination means that the bees literally shake the pollen out of the plant for pollination. Occasionally the wind is strong enough to do the same job, but in green houses and walled gardens these bees prove to be highly effective.

The sound and size of the Blue Banded Bee is the first thing you will notice about them. Their wing beating sounds quite different to a normal Honey Bee, more of a Bumblebee look. Their bodies are more rounded and larger too, which makes their blue markings stand out. Their wings are key to helping them in their job as pollinators, helping pollen to disperse as well as keeping them hovering. Quite a different movement from the good old Honey Bees.

When they land upon a flower they practically shiver to help stir up the pollen in the plant. They do this by using their muscles that they use for flight.

They collect pollen in their side pouches, nonetheless, and help carry it from flower to flower. The rest they take home with them in their hive.

How do they live?

Blue Banded Bees are not into creating hives in tree hollows like Australian Honey Bees are. Instead they prefer to make their homes in soft mortar between bricks in the sides of homes, mudbrick walls and soft embankments, which is much more like wasps or spiders. Soft sandstone cliffs are also a favourite.

They are solitary in nature, which means that each female mates and then builds a single nest all by herself. Very un-Australian Honey Bee-like who love colony life.

Blue Banded Bees are not kept for honey, but for their unique pollination service that they provide.

How can we provide a habitat for the Blue Banded Bees?

Creating small portable nesting blocks is the best way to encourage Blue Banded Bees to take up residence in our yards.

Here's a PDF file tutorial on how to build your own nesting blocks:

Which plants do they buzz pollinate the best?

Edibles: Tomatoes, eggplants, kiwifruit, blueberries, potatoes, cranberries.
Australian Natives: Dianella - Flax Lily, Solanum Cinereum, Senna, Arctostaphylos, Hibbertia.

Likely to visit up to 1200 tomato flowers a day.

Ideal for use in poly tunnels and greenhouse pollination. For more information the Adelaide University have produced an in-depth and easy to read report. Click here.

Are they aggressive? Do they sting?

No, Blue Banded Bees are not known for the aggression. But yes, they can sting, but it much more of a milder sting if you step on or grab them.

What temperature do they work in?

Blue Banded Bees actively forage between 20°C - 40°C.

Have you started to see any Blue Banded Bees in your garden yet?
Their popularity amongst avid gardeners is growing Australia-wide.