Monday, 16 October 2006

The venerable bees

Hoverflies aren't the only harbingers of spring. As the days grow longer, bees and wasps start buzzing around, visiting flowers and—in the case of many wasps—searching for insects to act as hosts for their eggs. (Nature isn't always pretty but it is consistently intriguing.)

Most bees and wasps are tiny, exquisite insects. They go about their business unnoticed. But a few are big, bright and bold enough to make a splash.

Blue-banded bees (Amegilla cingulata) are widespread across southern Australia. These males, photographed at Margaret River in WA, are snoozing on a thistle. Each has clamped his jaws onto a stem to hold himself in place. Although normally solitary, these fellows have gathered together over a pile of sand, where several females have dug burrows. They'll be the first on site when the females emerge in the morning.

Beautiful as they are, blue-banded bees can cause problems by excavating burrows in mud bricks and mortar. Leafcutter bees (Megachile) aren't quite as destructive but will use holes and cracks in buildings to construct their small, leaf-lined nests.

Females snip out pieces from leaves, which they then carry back to the home site and glue together. (The Airfix school of construction.) They prefer soft vegetation (they're not daft), so they tend to favour garden plants over more robust natives.

[Many thanks to MM for providing these stunning pictures of native bees.]


amegilla said...

Well, will you look at that - a charm of bees I do believe.
(I'm sure it's actually a charm or larks or something, but bees'll do me).
yrs hymenopterally

Duncan said...

Wonderful little bees the Blue-banded, infuriatingly difficult to photograph though, never seem to settle for more than a half a second. Wife had some pots of bedding begonias which they visited regularly, I finally put the camera away in disgust and just enjoyed looking and listening to that high pitched buzz. Have them on the tomato plants in summer too, good pollinators.

Snail said...

I haven't seen any of the big bees around my neck of the woods. I suspects it's just a bit too urban for them. But that makes it even more of a joy when I do get a glimpse!

tapperboy said...

Charming images :)

Snail said...

Aren't they? I wish I'd taken them!

Chuckie said...

Encore, Encore!!!! More bees please.
How do I get the blue banded bees to destroy my mudbrick house?