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Nature Notes by WCMN Observer, Kate January, 2014


 NATIVE BEES ARE ABUZZ!!

Last September the Mt Korong Group hosted a “Buzz About Bees” info session in Wedderburn, where we talked about some of the wonderful native bees seen in our region, showed slides and gave out some hardwood blocks with holes drilled in them for native bees to nest in. I took a left-over block home and put it on a table on the north facing verandah, where it sat for over a month, as the weather warmed, waiting for bees to notice.

The introduced European honey bee is instantly recognized and highly valued as a pollinator of crops and producer of honey. But did you know that Australia has over 2000 species of native bees, ranging from 2mm to 24mm long, and in a great variety of colours and forms? Only a few species live in social colonies. Most species, and all of the Victorian bees live solitary lives, building individual nests in holes in wood, earth, mud wasps’ nests or reeds to pupate their young. We might have to depend on our native bees for crop pollination if and when the dreaded Varroa mite gets to Australia, which, along with colony collapse disorder (CCD) is causing European honey bee populations to decline overseas.

Perhaps you have seen the beautiful Blue-banded bee in your garden. It has a bright blue striped abdomen and pollinates by vibrating its wing muscles at the anthers of certain flower types, blasting the pollen onto the underside of its abdomen. If you’re lucky you might see some Blue-banded bees sleeping on a stem in the evening. They hold on with their jaws, not their feet, which is a funny sight. Another lovely local bee is the Golden-browed resin bee, and it was one of these which first took up an apartment in my bee block in early November. The female Golden browed resin bee has striking good looks, with orange hair on her forehead, large red eyes, and white bands across her abdomen. These bees nest in existing holes in wood, old mud wasps’ nests or old mortar. Of the 4mm, 6mm and 9mm diameter holes drilled in my bee block, the Golden-browed resin bees prefer 6mm. The bee first selects a hole, then makes many return trips to pack into it a store of pollen and nectar, first entering head first, then backing out and re-entering backwards to scrape pollen off her back legs. An egg is then laid and the cell sealed with an attractive green plug, made of resin and chewed up leaves. Inside, a larva will hatch, eat their food supply, mature, spin a cocoon and pupate.

The activity around the bee block is greatest on the hottest days, and now as the available holes are becoming few, the competition is keen and some arguments occur, especially if a bee enters a hole only to meet a nest-builder on her way out! Watching the bee block has been enthralling (better than watching ‘The Block’ on TV!), and I hope I have the good luck to see some of the young adults chew through the resin plugs and emerge in the months ahead. I’ve also been watching and photographing several other bee species at the bee block, and I hope to identify and record them all. It’s easy to make a bee block. Just get a solid length of hardwood (untreated) and drill holes ranging in diameter from 4mm to 9mm, about 3cm apart and as deep as you can drill them (10–15cm is ok). Stand your block under your northern verandah and wait for the action to start!

A great native bee website is www.aussiebee.com.au where you can find out about many more Australian native bee species, and how to make other bee houses out of clay and bamboo.

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