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Facts About Native Bees in Australia

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Video Transcript

Introduction of Native Bees to Australia

Native bees are hugely important for a natural environment. They have co-evolved for millions of years with native plant species. There’s a huge range of plants, flowering plants that rely only on native bees for pollination and honey bees have been introduced in the 1800’s in Australia, cannot pollinate those plants because they cannot open them or because they cannot get the pollen out.

Native bees rely on flowering plants. They provide their only food. So, they eat nectar and pollen. They eat pollen themselves and they collect pollen for their young. So, anywhere where there is enough flowers, there are likely to be native bees. But, many native bees prefer native plants, so native flowers are better.

Half of the bees, approximately, nest in the ground, and they dig out nests, and the other half can nest in sticks and stems and hollows. When the whole ground is covered in weeds and high vegetation it’s unlikely you’ll find bees. You’ll find them in the more open spots. Another thing that affects the occurrence of native bees is of course their size.

Bee Size Determines Pollination

You’ve got bees that are two-millimeters, and you’ve got bees that are two-and-a-half centimeters. So, in terms of differences translating to mammals, that’s the difference between a rabbit and an elephant. That also determines what kind of plants they can visit because large bees are strong and obviously can open plants, like peas, that small bees cannot open.

The bees that can open those flowers then become the pollinators. And, the special type of pollination in that context is buzz pollination. And buzz pollination is best illustrated using tomatoes the tomato is the most pollinated plant. What happens is that the bees need to hang on the plant and buzz, shake the plant.

You can hear the bee buzzing, and then the pollen drops out. Now this is the type of pollination that honey bees can all do, and it so happens that many of our Australian native flowers, especially spring flowers, are buzz-pollinated. The Petium that we have growing here behind me is buzz-pollinated.

Flax lilies, chocolate lilies are buzz-pollinated. Without these native bees those flowers would not produce any seed. The time that native bees are active It depends on really where you are in Australia. Here we are in South Australia and spring just started. This is peak time for native bees. In the north of the country bees are active year round.

Bee Activity Affected by Temperature

We need temperatures of about above twenty degrees and a nice bit of sunshine to have native bee activity and preferably not too much wind. Many flowers that are attractive to native bees open in the morning and so you peak times of native bee activity would be between ten, depending on the temperature, and two-o’clock in the afternoon.

Katja Hogendoorn, from the University of Adelaide, discuses native bees in Australia and their importance for our natural environment.

Native bees have co-evolved with native plants for millions of years in Australia. There is a huge range of native plants that rely on native bees for pollination. The introduced honeybee is not able to pollinate these plants.

This work is part of a project supported by the Northern Yorke Natural Resources Management Board.

2 Comments on "Facts About Native Bees in Australia"

  1. Sophie Small says:

    Hi,
    This is a great little clip with Katja Hogendoorn discussing native bees.
    Would you mind if Bellarine Landcare Group put a link to it on our website?
    Sophie

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