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Types of Australian Native Bees and How to Attract them to Your Garden

Did you know that we have over 2,000 different species of native bees here in Australia? These are very different to the honey bees that we’re all familiar with.

Our native bees are important pollinators both for our native flowers and many agricultural crops that we grow in this country such as apples and lucerne.

Here’s a rundown of a few of the most popular Australian native species of bees and what you can do to attract them to your garden.

Neon cuckoo bee (Thyreus nitidulus)

Neon cuckoo bee Thyreus nitidulus | Wildlife
Neon cuckoo bee (Thyreus nitidulus)

This native bee can be identified by the bright blue neon markings all over its body. These markings can either be seen as spots or bright blue bands. Their wings are black and shiny.

These bees are usually around 10 to 13 mm long and can be found all over Australia except for Tasmania.

They’re solitary bees but don’t build their own nests. Instead, they wait for blue banded bees to build nests and then lay their eggs in these.

When this happens, the neon cuckoo bee’s eggs may hatch first and the youngsters will consume all the pollen left by the blue banded bee mother. 

This means that when the blue banded bee youngsters hatch, they usually starve to death because there is no food left for them to consume.

Blue banded bees (Amegilla cingulata)

Blue banded bees Amegilla cingulata | Wildlife
Blue banded bees (Amegilla cingulata)

The pretty little blue banded bee uses a special pollination method that is unique. In some flowers, the pollen is trapped deep inside the flower in a tiny capsule.

In order to collect this pollen, the blue banded bee can curl its body around the flowers and then, it will rapidly vibrate its wings in order to shake the pollen free from the capsule. This is known as buzz pollination.

You can identify these bees by the distinct blue and black bands on their bodies. These bees are only around 11 mm long. They are also solitary bees which means that they don’t live in hives.

Instead, each female bee will build a nest in the ground, usually in clay soil, or in mudbricks.

Interestingly, these bees are great for pollinating tomato flowers and have been used by the University of Adelaide for pollinating tomatoes grown in greenhouses.

Teddy bear bees (Amegilla bombiformis)

Teddy bear bees Amegilla bombiformis 2 | Wildlife
Teddy bear bees (Amegilla bombiformis) / Photo by Louise Docker / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

These native bees look similar to bumble bees because they have quite plump bodies. They can be between 7 to 20 mm long and have golden fur that covers their bodies.

Their abdomen has hairless black bands and they have dark brown wings. As the bees age, the hair on their thorax falls out and results in a bald spot.

These bees are also solitary and female bees make their nests in underground burrows. They also use the buzz pollination method to gather pollen from flowers.

Resin bees (Megachile)

Resin bee Megachile | Wildlife
Resin bees (Megachile) / Photo by Colin Leel / Ausemade / CC BY-SA 4.0

These bees are quite unique as they build their nests out of the resin that seeps from mature trees. These bees are quite small and range in length from 8 to 14 mm. 

The bees also vary a little in appearance and can have either orange, red or black bodies.

As solitary bees, the females like to build their nests in tree hollows and holes in tree trunks. These bees also appreciate bee hotels and will use them if available.

Great carpenter bee (Xylocopa aruana)

Great carpenter bee Xylocopa aruana | Wildlife
Great carpenter bee (Xylocopa aruana) / Photo by John Robert McPherson / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

The great carpenter bees are the largest of all native bee species in Australia. They can range in length from 15 to 24 mm. The female of the species has a shiny black abdomen and a very bright yellow waistcoat.

However, male great carpenter bees have brown banded abdomens and lack the bright yellow waistcoat. They also have stunning emerald green eyes.

These bees are solitary and will build their nests in burrows that they carve out of dead wood or pithy stems.

Stingless Bees (Tetragonula carbonaria

Stingless Bees Tetragonula carbonaria | Wildlife
Stingless Bees (Tetragonula carbonaria) / Photo by Simon Egan / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

Native stingless bees are used extensively in Queensland to pollinate crops such as macadamias, lychees, watermelons and mangoes.

These bees do live in hives but forage for pollen close to home and do not travel as far as honey bees. The University of Western Sydney has had great success in using these bees to pollinate crops that are grown in greenhouses.

The honey that these bees produce is called sugarbag honey and is tangier than the honey that we’re familiar with, that introduced honey bees produce.

However, each hive can only produce around 1 kg of honey per year, so this is not commercially viable on a larger scale.

These bees are small and dark in colour. They usually build their hives in tree hollows and can be found along the east coast of Australia.

Best plants and flowers for bees in Australia

In order to attract native bees to your garden, you have to plant flowers that they love and also have areas where they can build their nests. 

Of course, our native bees love native flowers but they’ll also be attracted by exotic blooms similar to honey bees.

Australian native bee | Wildlife

Here are some of the more common flowering plants that you should grow to attract native bees to your garden.

When selecting plants for your garden to attract native bees, make sure that you have a wide variety of these so that there are always some that flower right throughout the year

It’s also a good idea to plant a small grouping of each plant species close together. This will attract native bees more easily to your garden.

Building a bee hotel

As we’ve learned, many of our native bees are solitary and build their nests either in underground burrows or in tree hollows. 

For this reason, bee hotels have become very popular in recent years as a way to provide our native bees with ideal nesting locations.

bee hotel | Wildlife

You can purchase these ready-made or build your own. All you have to do is build a box and fill this with hollowed-out pieces of wood and bamboo. 

Then you can hang this on a tree in your yard in a sunny spot and wait for the bees to come along. 

bee hotel 1 | Wildlife

For native bees that build their nests in the ground, you want to make sure that you have a patch of undisturbed bare soil that the female bees can use to build the burrows for their nests. 

Buying native bees

Did you know that you can buy some species of native bees either in boxes or complete hives?

Stingless bees are commonly sold as a complete colony and are available from numerous beekeepers in Queensland, Western Australia and NSW. 

There are a range of different sellers on the AussieBee website

FAQ

Are native bees stingless?

Some of our native bees are stingless such as Tetragonula carbonaria but other species of native bees do have stings. However, you’ll find that most native bees are not aggressive and will only sting if they feel threatened.

What is the difference between honey bees and native bees?

Honey bees are exotic bees and not native to Australia. Native bees are native to this country and many of these species do not live in hives but build solitary nests instead.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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