Recently, to my delight, I observed a female blue banded bee (Amegilla) burrowing into soft dirt near the veggie patch in my backyard. She was either looking for, or making, a nesting site.
Blue banded bees, as their name suggests, have distinctive bands of metallic blue across their black abdomens. Some species have green or orange bands of color. Interestingly, the females have four bands and the males five.
Since seeing the blue banded bee in my garden, I became interested to read more about them. Here’s what I’ve discovered:
1. Blue Banded Bees Are Native To Australia
Blue banded bees are quite different from European honey bees and are one of approximately 1,700 reported species of native Australian bee. There are currently 14 known species of blue banded bees and they are in every state and territory of Australia, apart from Tasmania. They typically inhabit urban gardens, forests, woodlands and heath.
2. Blue Banded Bees Are Buzz Pollinators
Blue banded bees are known as buzz pollinators. This means when a blue banded bee visits a flower, her thoracic muscles vibrate vigorously, making a loud buzzing noise. This high frequency vibration releases the pollen from the anther and some of it lands onto her body. As she flies from flower to flower, she pollinates the flowers. Some crops need to be visited by buzz pollinators in order for their seeds and fruit to fully develop.
3. Blue Banded Bees Are Solitary
Unlike the honey bee, blue banded bees don’t live in a colony. They are solitary. There is no queen bee or worker bees. The females mate and make individual nests usually in the ground, however individual bees will often nest together in the one place.
4. Male Blue Banded Bees Don’t Live In The Ground
The male blue banded bee doesn’t live in ground like the female bee. Instead, he roosts in small groups on stems or twigs. The male bee hangs on to the stem with his mandibles, tucking his legs in under his body.
5. Blue Banded Bees Aren’t Endangered
Blue banded bees are not endangered, although you might think so given you don’t see many of them about. This is because they are solitary bees and don’t live in a large colony like European honey bees.
You may observe one or two together on a flower, whereas you might see dozens or even hundreds of European visiting the same plant. You will definitely notice blue banded bees because of their distinctive blue color, their loud buzzing and their tendency to hover and dart about. Because of this I found the blue banded bee difficult to photograph with my phone!
6. Blue Banded Bees Nest In Burrows
Once they mate, the blue banded bee will build her nest either in a shallow burrow in clay soil, in a soft sandstone bank, loose dirt or soft mortar. She prefers to use a sheltered position.
Her nest will consist of oval shaped cells which she lines with waterproof secretions. Before she lays an egg in the cell, the blue banded bee deposits a paste of pollen and nectar. Once the egg is laid, she seals the cell with an earthen cap and when all the cells are filled, she covers the nest with layers of soil to conceal it.
Although she makes her own solitary nest, the blue banded bee likes to nest near other blue banded bees. Several nests may be found in the one area, rather like neighbors in a small town.
7. You Can Attract Blue Banded Bees To Your Garden
There are two ways you can attract blue banded bees and other native bees to your garden:
Provide suitable flora
Provision of suitable flora is key to the healthy development of all bee species. Blue banded bees need both pollen and nectar to perform their daily tasks and provide their offspring with food so they can develop into healthy adult bees.
Usually native bees prefer native flora because they have evolved alongside Australian native plants for centuries – so planting a garden full of native plants will help attract blue banded bees. However, the blue banded bee will also visit non-native species such as Abelia, Salvia, Borage, and flowers of vegetables such as tomatoes and pumpkins.
Like many bee species, the blue banded bees seem to prefer blue flowering plants, such as the native Westringia and Scaevola and non-natives such as Lavender.
It’s a good idea to plant several of the same type of flowering plant together in groups. This makes it easier for bees to locate suitable flowers.
Provide suitable nesting sites
By providing suitable nesting sites for the blue banded bee, you can help increase their chances of survival. Blue banded bees usually nest in the ground, or for example, in the mortar of old bricks or in soft sandstone banks. To attract more blue banded bees it’s a good idea to make nesting blocks for them.
Nesting blocks can be made by filling the holes in old bricks with mud which, when dried, can have small holes drilled into them as starting points. As blue banded bees prefer to nest gregariously (near other bees), several of these blocks can be placed together in a sheltered location where other blue banded bees may be found.
Other materials can be used to make nesting blocks, such as old milk cartons, or pieces of PVC pipe. These can be filled with mud and small starter holes drilled in them.
8. Blue Banded Bees Are Active Foragers
One study monitored the foraging activity of blue banded bees and found that, on average, they make nine foraging trips every single day. Blue banded bees tend to forage close to their nests, rather than travel far and wide. It’s rare that they’ll ever travel more than 300 meters (985 feet) to find food.
9. Blue Banded Bees Do Sting
Blue banded bees do have a stinger – but it’s too small to provide an effective sting. Their sting doesn’t produce as much soreness as the sting of a bull ant, and the pain only lasts a few minutes, unless you happen to be allergic. In general, Australian native bees are not aggressive by nature so they are unlikely to sting.
10. Blue Banded Bees Don’t Make Honey
The blue banded bee does not make honey. She is known as a solitary native bee, one of Australia’s more than 1,700 species of native bee. None of these solitary bees make honey.
Native solitary bees have small nests which house their young in individual cells. Within these cells, the females place a paste of nectar and pollen that is just enough to feed the developing bee until it is mature enough to leave.
11. Blue Banded Bees Aren’t Dangerous
Blue banded bees are not dangerous to humans. They do have a stinger, but it is so small that the sting it delivers is ineffective to humans.
Blue banded bees are beneficial insects to have in the garden, because they pollinate many plants including vegetables such as pumpkins and tomatoes.
They are also attractive and fascinating insects to observe with the striking bands of blue on their abdomen.
The blue banded bee is one of many species of Australian native bee. As I learn more about them, I find them more and more fascinating.
The blue banded bee and the European honey bee can live and work together, side by side, pollinating the same flowers on the same plant at the same time. Although the blue banded bee and the European honey bee look nothing alike, and they live distinctly different lives, each one works towards the one goal of ensuring the survival of their species.