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Australian Native Bees

Australian Native Bees

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Published by draculavanhelsing
fact sheet
fact sheet

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: draculavanhelsing on Jul 27, 2012
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11/08/2012

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Information SheetNative Bees
 
 Australia is inhabited by an estimated 2000species of native bees, many of which have yetto be scientifically named and described.Discoveries of new species are not uncommon,so the total number of species may be muchhigher. Approximately 800 species occur inWestern Australia and many of them areendemic.Bees are actually specialised wasps closelyallied to predatory wasps known as ‘sphecoids’.They have given up their ancestors’ predatoryhabits and, instead of storing paralysed insect or spider prey as food for their larvae, they collectand store pollen and nectar. This transition tovegetarianism was accomplished with only minor structural changes one of which was thedevelopment of plumed or branched bristles andhairs (setae).
Branched hairs (setae) from a bee’s abdomen. Visibleonly under a microscope, branched or plumed setaedistinguish all bees from wasps.
 Australian bees are extremely diverse in terms of size, form, colouration, degree of sociality andbehaviour and relatively few resemble thefamiliar honeybee. Our tiniest bees are onlyabout 2.5 mm long while our largest are aboutten times as long. Body form varies from broadand rotund to slender and delicate. Some beesare densely hairy while others are sparsely hairyor almost hairless and some are very wasp-like.Our bees are classified into five families, three of which are known as ‘short-tongued’ and two as‘long-tongued’. The ‘tongue’ is a flexible hairyextension of the proboscis used for lapping upnectar and for applying secretions during nest-building.
 A long-tongued bee,
 Amegilla
 Asaropoda
 ) sp. Long tongues enable nectar-extraction from deep, tubular flowers.Head of a short-tongued bee,
Homalictus
sp., showing the short, pointed tongue at the end of the proboscis.Either side of the mouth are the jaws or mandibleswhich are used for excavating burrows, carrying nesting materials or fighting.
While both sexes feed on nectar (a dilutesolution of sugars in water), females usuallythicken it into honey before taking it back to their nests. They do this by regurgitating the nectar 
 
 2
from the honey stomach onto their mouthparts,exposing it to the air to evaporate excess water.They alternately regurgitate and re-swallowdroplets of nectar until it reaches the requiredconsistency.
 A female bee
Hylaeus
 
cyaneomicans
 ) holding adroplet of nectar on her mouth-parts as she thickens it to honey.
Females of most kinds of bees carry their pollen loads on specialized sets of hairs (termed‘scopae’) on either the hind legs or the undersideof the abdomen. Such pollen loads immediatelydistinguish the insects as bees.
 A female bee
Ctenocolletes
 
smaragdinus
 ) carrying yellow pollen on the hairs of her hind legs.
Other bees, usually sparsely hairy species, lackscopae and swallow pollen, carrying it mixed withnectar in the stomach. At the nest, theyregurgitate the combined pollen and nectar as asemi-fluid paste. Even when carried separately,pollen and honey are usually combined in thenest to form the larval food, either as a solid,rounded mass or as a fluid or semi-fluid paste.Either way, the egg is deposited on top of thecompleted provision. Separate storage of honeyand pollen is practised only by highly social bees.
 A female bee
Megachile
 
mystaceana
 ) carrying a full load of cream pollen on the underside of her abdomen.
 Australia’s bees are predominantly solitary,each female building one or more nests in whichto rear her offspring without the aid of ‘workers’.Many burrow in the ground though a few bore indead, rotting wood or pithy stems. Most othersare ‘lodgers’, utilizing existing hollows such asborer holes in dead wood, hollow stems andabandoned burrows of other bees and wasps.Lodger bees will also utilize man-made cavitiessuch as nail and bolt holes, pipes and cutbamboo. A few species build free-standing nestson stems or rocks. A variety of materials may beused in nest construction including soil, plantfibre, leaf pieces, leaf pulp, resin and secretionssuch as wax and silk. Typically, each brood cellis an urn-shaped cavity providing a protectiveenvironment for the development of a singleindividual; it is stocked with sufficient food toenable development from egg to adult and issealed once it receives an egg.
Completed brood cell of a soil-nesting bee
Stenotritus
 
greavesi
 ) showing yellow pollen massand white egg. The cell walls are varnished with awaterproofing secretion making them shiny.
 
 3
Young bees must bore their way out of their cells and find their way to freedom. In groundnests, the cells may occur singly, each with aseparate connection to the main shaft, but beesthat nest in hollow stems and borer holesconstruct series of cells, end to end along thegalleries.
Nest of a resin-using bee ( 
Megachile sp.
 )constructed in an abandoned wood-boring beetlegallery in dead wood. Two brood cells constructed end to end are on the right and the plugged nest entrance is on the left.
Small carpenter bees
(Exoneura
and
Braunsapis
species) nest in hollow stems andborer holes but have forsaken the constructionof cells. Instead, small groups of adults sharethe tunnels with immature stages and feed thelarvae small meals periodically.
Eggs of a small carpenter bee ( 
Exoneura
sp.), left,and larvae of another kind ( 
Braunsapis
sp.) in hollow stems. No cells are constructed by these bees.
Bees' worst enemies are parasitic insects(certain wasps, flies and beetles), mites andmoulds that develop in or on their immaturestages and food stores. Among the enemies are‘cuckoo bees’, females of which break into their host’s freshly completed brood cells to deposittheir eggs. The cuckoo bee larvae, uponhatching, destroy the host egg or young larvaand take over the food store. The white-spottedspecies of 
Thyreus
, for example, develop innests of blue-banded bees (
 Amegilla
spp).
 A male cuckoo bee
Thyreus
sp.) at rest. Males of many bees and wasps spend the night in this way,gripping stems or leaves with their jaws alone.
 Australian bees occupy most terrestrialhabitats including the arid inland. Providingthere are flowers, bee activity may be observedthroughout the year, although, in southern Australia, activity peaks in spring and summer.While most species are active during the middlehours of the day, some summer-active beesconfine their flights to the cooler mornings andevenings and a few tropical species are knownto fly only at night.In terms of flower visitation, some bees aregeneralists while others display varying degreesof specialization. They may confine their foraging to flowers of one family, one to a fewgenera, or occasionally a single species of plant. Consequently, their geographic rangesand flight seasons are correspondinglyrestricted. Between activity periods, beepopulations usually survive in a dormant larvalstage. Floral specialists commonly displaystructural adaptations to their forage plants (e.g.an elongated proboscis in bees specializing intubular flowers). Special behaviours may alsobe evident. For example, many species shakedry pollen from tubular anthers (such as thoseof 
Solanum
) by vibrating their wing muscles,audibly buzzing as they do so.Male bees play no part in nest constructionor brood care, their sole function being to locateand fertilise females. Typically, they do this bypatrolling the preferred forage flowers or thenesting areas. Competition for females can beintense and males may fight each other to gainaccess to virgin females. Territorial behaviour isquite common where males defend a patch of habitat, often containing forage flowers, anddrive off rival males and any other flying insects.The yellow spotted males of certain
Hylaeus
species, for example, establish and vigorouslydefend territories on fresh
Banksia
flower heads.The males vary in size and larger males tend todominate in violent skirmishes with rivals.

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