Tag Archives: native bees

Verandah bee renovations

Our house needs some serious work, like the last place we lived in, in Brisbane. While preparing to tackle the herculean task (for me, anyway) of sanding and painting the entire exterior of the latter dwelling, an old workers’ cottage, I discovered some weird little orange bees living in gaps in the weatherboards. I eventually captured one, and we had it identified as a Fire-tailed Resin Bee (Megachile mystacaena). A photograph I took of it (below) ended up in the Queensland Museum’s Wildlife of Greater Brisbane in 1995, and it’s still there in the 2007 edition, on page 166.

Fire-tailed Resin Bee (Megachile mystacaena). Solitary native bees that nest in existing cracks and crevices, hollow twigs, old borer holes, metal pipes or between the folds of curtains. This is one I that I discovered nesting in our old weatherboard house in Brisbane over ten years ago. Photo R. Ashdown

We’ve just re-discovered them busily making renovations on the verandah of our house at Toowoomba, after our dog Pluto (not much bigger than a bee, so it sees things like this as a threat) chased one around in circles. After Harry managed to get some great images I mucked about in the heat lying on the verandah with a Canon G12 and external flash for hours trying to get a few decent shots.

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What a gorgeous insect! The fiery tail of the Fire-tailed Resin Bee. Photo R. Ashdown.

One bee worked furiously, and it seemed to be near the point of finishing one resin cell.

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The female bee constructs cells from plant resin, chewed plant material and mud, which she carries and moulds with her jaws. Photo R. Ashdown.

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A close up of the industrious bee hard at work. Maybe I can get them to sand and paint this house for me. Could take a few decades. Photo R. Ashdown

A second bee arrived (top, in photo below), and busily checked out crevices all over the verandah.

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One bee returning to nearly-completed cell, a second examining all the gaps. Photo R. Ashdown.

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Harry captured this lovely close-up showing the fine golden hairs on legs and abdomen. Photo Harry Ashdown.

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Bee arriving with a mouth-full of cottony plant material. Photo R. Ashdown.

While they would arrive with what looked like white cotton wool in their mouths (see above), the resin these bees produced had a beautiful deep maroon colour.

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The deep red resin of a nearly-completed cell. I can only assume that the female has carried a caterpillar here that contains an egg, or eggs, of hers. The bee larvae, once hatched, will hatch and devour the caterpillar (or other prey insect). Photo R. Ashdown.

These bees are a surprisingly common subject for photographers, with numerous sites showing images of these bees. The Fire-tailed Resin Bee is just one of over 1,500 species of native bees in Australia.

Dr Dave Britton, of the Australian Museum writes:

Bees belong to the insect Order Hymenoptera, which includes wasps, ants and sawflies. In Australia there are four main bee families: Apidae, Colletidae, Halictidae and Megachilidae.

Many Australian these bees are solitary nesters, while others may share a nest. Others are fully social species.

Although some bees sting, they are not considered to be pests as they play an important role in the Australian environment as key pollinators of many native plant species. Indigenous people have long used both the honey and the nests of native bees as valuable sources of food and wax.

Commercially, the introduced Honey Bee is vital to the production of honey, but the cultivation of native bee species is also being investigated as a viable industry.

Features of bees:

  • They are vegetarian throughout their life cycle, eating nectar and pollen.
  • They are generally furrier than wasps and have feathery or branched hairs.
  • Some native bees use a special pollination technique called ‘buzz pollination’, which certain native flowering plants require for pollination.
  • Stingless bees (Trigona and Austroplebeia species) are the only native bees that do not possess a sting.
  • The females of all the other native bees have a sting but many are too small to deliver an effective venom dose to humans.
  • Although not aggressive, the largest native species can deliver a painful sting.

More on Fire-tailed Resin Bees and other native bees:

A cache of bees

My son and I recently discovered the sport of Geocaching, after accidentally stumbling on a container full of cryptic notes and tiny objects in a local park. So, while staying with relatives in Brisbane over Christmas we decided to try to find a couple of caches in nearby parks. After finding one we got completely bush-whacked looking for a second in rocky scrub along the edge of Kedron Brook in Kalinga Park.

While scrabbling about, Harry’s keen eyes detected an interesting sight — a swirling cluster of native bees gathering on a twig.

Native Nomia (Lipotriches sp.) bees gather for the night. Photo R. Ashdown.

Hobbo again came to our aid, tentatively identifying the insects as Nomia Bees (Lipotriches sp.). From the Australian Museum:

Nomia bees live in urban areas, forests and woodlands, and heath. Most species nest in the ground and a number of females use the entrance and main shaft but dig their own tunnel off to the side. During the day male Nomia bees forage for nectar but at night hundreds of them gather together, clinging onto grass stems. Nobody really knows why they do this but it is a behaviour that some other bees, including blue-banded bees, also show. The behaviour of the females is slightly better understood. Up to three share a nest burrowed into the soil. They take turns guarding the entrance, blocking it with their face during the day and their abdomen at night. Inside the nest the Nomia bees make urn-shaped cells containing a disc of nectar and pollen and a single egg. Each nest may be reused by several generations.

Issue 16 of Aussie Bee magazine, from March 2001, reports the discovery of clusters of Green and Gold Nomia Bees (Lipotriches australica) in a park in Sydney. The article mentions Tarlton Rayment, an Australian naturalist with a particular interest in native bees. In 1935 Rayment wrote A Cluster of Bees, a study of the ecology of Australian bees. He described Nomia bees gathering in clusters, which in some cases comprised up to several thousand individuals.

Only male Nomia bees gather in one place like this.

In a detailed scientific study on Green and Gold Nomia Bees (Lipotriches australica), published in 1956, Rayment described how these bees nest in burrows in the ground. Excavating the burrows, he found complex underground chambers and shafts, with brood cells and females guarding the tunnels. A further study in 1994, by Megan Vogel and Dr Penelope Kukuk, looked at well over 1,000 nests of this species in a bare, sandy road-cut in Victoria. The researchers individually marked 66 bees from 50 nests and investigated their foraging and nesting behaviour over a three month period. They found up to three female bees in each nest, and every female collected food supplies and laid eggs. It took the females an average of 1 and 1/4 hours to complete each pollen-collecting trip.

Colourful little beasts. Photo R. Ashdown.

There are over 1,500 species of native bees in Australia! Here a few I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the years.

Carbonaria (or Sugar Bag) Stingless Bee (Trigona carbonaria). A social bee, the nest is made of resin and wax and constructed in hollow tree trunks, branches, fallen logs and rock crevices. These bees do not sting but defend their nest by swarming. Photographed at Barakula State Forest, R. Ashdown.

Same type of bee, photographed in a tree at the local school. Photo R. Ashdown.

Blue-banded Bee (Amegilla sp.). Like Nomia bees, the male of this species (photographed here in Jacqui’s great garden) gather together to spend the night attached to a grass stem or twig. Photo Rowan Noyes.

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Blue-banded Bee (Amegilla sp.) These native bees are found throughout Australia on rainforest edges, open forest, woodland, desert and gardens. Photo R. Ashdown.

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Blue-banded Bee up close. I staked out a burrow in soil under our house for days before I managed to photograph one. Photo R. Ashdown.


A Leafcutter Bee (Megachile sp.). The female Leafcutter Bee cuts circles out of leaves to line her nest. She provides each egg she lays with a pollen and nectar mixture, and leaves the eggs to hatch into grubs, which will eat the provisions before pupating. The Australian Museum reports that during courtship the male leafcutter bee passes his feet over the female’s eyes in a rubbing motion. She uses the patterns to identify the male as the correct species and potential mate. Photo R. Ashdown.

Teddy-bear Bee

A close relative of the Blue-banded Bee, Teddy-bear Bees (Amegilla bombiformis) are also solitary bees. They dart about and hover near flowers. Nesting individuals of this species of native bee are stalked by the Domino Cuckoo Bee (Thyreus lugubris), which hovers silently and observes before entering unattended burrows and laying its own egg, the grub of which consumes the supplies meant for the teddy bear bee larvae. Also known as Golden-haired Mortar Bees. Photo R. Ashdown.

Thanks again to Rod Hobson for the ID and other information. Here’s a link to Aussie Bee Bulletin. More on Nomia bees here.

Update: 13/1/2013
From Justin Shiels (see also comment by Rod Hobson)

I was out in the yard this afternoon looking to see if my calabash vines were pollinating with any success when I noticed these bees all congregating on 3 old hession threads that were left in tatters after holding up last years tomatoes. Eager to know who these strange bees are I searched some images and found this blog.

It never ceases to amaze me what one can find in the wilds of backyard suburbia and now I can add nomia bees to my list. Their behaviour was just as you described where they all seem to mill about with the odd short trip next door and paying little attention to the calabash flowers that I was aware of. Thanks for helping out with the identification of these new bees.

Nomia Bees

Nomia Bees, photo Justin Shiels.

Nomia Bees

Nomia Bees, photo Justin Shiels.

For some wonderful macro images of insects, including Nomia Bees, see here.