Did you know that 'honey bees' are an introduced feral species? While they are important for producing honey and as crop pollinators, they are in competition with our native bees and are not always good pollinators of native plants.
There are about 1,600 species of native bees in Australia and some of them are probably living in your backyard right now. Most native bees don't make hives, they are 'solitary' and look quite different to common or European honey bees, they can be green and shiny, hairy and blue or tiny and black. Solitary Australian bees lay a few eggs in a small nest or burrow, depositing a ball of pollen and nectar with each egg as food. Some of the more common solitary native bees that you can see living in your garden include blue banded bees, leafcutter bees and teddy bear bees.
Native bees are an important part of our environment, they pollinate native plants and are a food source for other native animals. Increasingly their importance as crop pollinators is becoming better understood as colony collapse syndrome decimates honey bee populations.
You can help support native bees by planting a variety of summer and winter flowering plants in your garden, create solitary native bee habitat by building a 'bee hotel' or by simply leaving areas of bare earth in your garden.
Host a hive of native bees
While most of our native bees are solitary, some species are colonial or live in hives. Their hives much smaller than honey bees and are often made in tree hollows. Native colonial bees have a social structure similar to that of honey bees, including a queen, worker bees and drones. Most colonial native bees live in the tropics but we have one species of colonial native bee, Tetragonula carbonaria that lives in the Sydney area. These bees are small, black and about 2mm long and famously, do not sting.
As a Council resident you can host a hive of native Tetragonula carbonaria bees, supplied by Council, in your backyard. T. carbonaria hives are quite small about the size of a shoe box and once placed in the right spot, hives of T. carbonaria require very little maintenance. By hosting a hive of native bees you will be adding to the local biodiversity and have some very interesting insect pets to show off to your neighbours.
If you are interested in hosting a hive of native T. carbonaria please call Council on 1300 581 299 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to speak to the Environment Officer.
There are many resources on the web if you would like to learn more about native bees and a new book 'The Australian Native Bee Book' by Tim Heard is available to borrow from the Rockdale and Eastgardens Libraries. Council regularly holds talks and workshops on both solitary and colonial native bees where you can build your own bee hotel to take home.