Native bees in the Mountains

Leaf Cutter bee Photo: Marc Newman
Leaf Cutter bee Photo: Marc Newman

The Blue Mountains is home to about 200 species of native bee. The common European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is what most people think of when you mention 'bees'. But the honey bee is not native to Australia, and it is not the best pollinator of many of our flowering plant species.

About 120 million years ago, meat-eating wasps began to evolve alongside flowering plants (angiosperms). These wasps eventually stopped hunting meat to feed their young, and instead, collected pollen for flowers. Pollen became an important protein source on which to raise their babies. When combined with vitamin, mineral and sugar-rich nectar, 'bee bread' contains all the essential ingredients that a growing bee grub needs.

Over the next 120 million years, plants developed ways to attract bees to their flowers. Because when bees visit flowers, to collect pollen and nectar, pollen grains are attracted to their branched, electrostatic hairs. As the bee moves over flowers, collecting food, the loose pollen grains are transferred to the reproductive parts of different flowers. Cross pollination is essential for genetic vigour, good seed set and quality fruit and nut development.

Unlike honey bees, most of our native bees carry dry pollen in special hairs called 'scopa'. The scopa is located under the abdomen or on the upper legs. This dry pollen is easily transferred between flowers as the bee forages. A single native bee can move more pollen to the reproductive parts of a flower than a honey bee.