Stingless Bees (Tetragonula carbonaria) or Sugarbag bees are much smaller and less noticeable than honey bees. Once they came to my attention though, I found them intriguing. I first spotted them in our front garden around a Crepe Myrtle. Their plain black upright silhouettes against a dark background made me think of sci-fi movie space pods:
Then I got closer to one on a Tecoma flower. I could see its stubbly white hair growth and the three simple eyes on the top of its head complementing its two larger compound eyes :
Wednesday, the 20th May, was officially named World Bee Day, honouring the importance of bees and other pollinators in the world’s ecosystems.
Bee Day is a recent Slovenian initiative, reflecting the great love of bee-keeping in that country. Its focus is almost entirely on the honey bee, even though honey bees comprise just 7 out of the 16,000 or so species of bees worldwide. This is a typical European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera), photographed in the Sydney Botanic Gardens:
Lately I’ve wondered whether the phrase “pollinator count” sends pollinators scurrying for a leaf to hide under. Last week, on several formal ‘pollinator counts’, I saw very few bees. For example, one count yielded only a blue-banded bee, a teddy bear bee, and a few honey bees. Another, no bees at all.
It was a different story on informal walks this week (though pollinator numbers were still smaller than they had been in summer). For example, a few days ago I saw a stand of Salvia flowers (Salvia leucantha?) in Waverton Bowling Club being visited by a variety of bees. First, this Teddy Bear Bee came in to land on a flower:
A few days ago to celebrate my recovery from a foot infection, I took a walk—an approved outing for socially distanced exercise, of course, where I just happened to be carrying a camera. This was also the week of the Autumn Wild Pollinator count so I wanted to make a couple of observations as well.
First stop was a Hibbertia plant where in the past I always saw bees. Now, alas, there were none. A Coastal Rosemary a few metres away was still half-dead from the drought, so again I saw no bees. Then I noticed another Hibbertia with just a few flowers on it, and yes! A bee! One bee after ten minutes of walking.
When I first saw this Blue-Banded Bee, she was grooming pollen granules out of her fur. Here, she is cleaning the underside of her left wing.
The bee's life is like a magic well: the more you draw from it, the more it fills with water
Karl von Frisch
In last week’s blog about Ginger Meggs and the Blue-banded Bees, I quoted expert advice that it can be hard to tell the different Blue-banded species apart by fur colour alone. So when I saw two different male Blue-banded Bees a few days ago, I was unsure whether they were of the same species. First there was this one, with lush golden-brown fur on its thorax and good blue iridescence in its stripes.
Last week I noted that there were fewer birds around, perhaps because of the smoke haze and the drought. The same was true for bees. After we finally had some rain a week ago, I walked over to a patch of Guinea Flowers (Hibbertia) where I usually see bees. I found few surviving flowers, and none of the usual bee visitors. However, I did see this Blue-banded Bee settling on one flower.
As she curled up to buzz the pollen, an orange shape appeared behind her:
The patrons of the ‘bee hotel’ beside our house include a few female Blue-Banded Bees. This is one returning to her nest tunnel inside the hotel.
Only the females sleep in their nests, however, and I wondered where the males went. Eventually I found one place. The other side of our house is not much visited by me because it has no through-way, but one day at dusk I spotted this lily bract:
On Friday, I went for what I thought would be a quick walk. As it happened there was quite a lot of wildlife, all too busy watching other wildlife to pay me much attention. Fortunately, I had taken my camera along "just in case".
The wildlife interactions began pleasantly, with this Grey Butcherbird feeding a juvenile too lazy to pick up food for itself:
I heard recently about a place where there were Carpenter bees, and another spot where there was an osprey’s nest, but when I looked for the bees, they were all gone, and I couldn’t check out the ospreys for over a week because I’d injured my knee falling over in the North Sydney CBD!
When I did finally find the osprey nest, there were no chicks, just a bored looking kookaburra, but then I noticed three Carpenter bees on a nearby patch of dianella. They were all females, and I promptly christened the nearest one Justine, after a cousin of mine who has pink hair.
After staying in several garden-free English B&Bs, it was delightful to arrive at Mimosa Lodge in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, where there was a half-acre of garden AND sunshine. I could hear a number of birds as we pulled in. However, when I went outside after unpacking, I discovered that much of the wildlife activity was coming from insects in the flower bed next to the breakfast terrace, and in the nearby flowering trees.
The first thing I noticed was the darker coloration of many of the honey bees. I concluded that these must be British Black Bees (Apis mellifera mellifera).