There are eleven species of described blue-banded bees in Australia ranging in size from 8-14 mm. They are also known as long-tongued bees or buzz pollinators. Blue-banded bees are solitary and are found in all states of Australia except Tasmania. They have a sting but are not aggressive.
They have thick, reddish-brown fur on their thorax and a black abdomen with iridescent blue, whitish, green or reddish furry stripes. The colours are caused by microscopic diagonal stripes engraved on each hair which reflect light causing these glittering colours. Males have five stripes and females have four. Their faces have yellow, cream or white markings.
Header: This female blue-banded bee is robbing nectar by piercing the ower petals with her straw-like brown sheath that protects her tongue.
Blue-banded bees forage on a variety of exotic and native flowers such as Hibbertia scandens, Melastoma malabathricum subsp malabathricum, tomato, chilli, basil, buddleia, lavender, abelias, Leucophyllum and cigar plants (Cuphea). Research has shown that blue-banded bees could be valuable pollinators of greenhouse tomatoes.
Females build their own nest and are attracted to areas where other females are nesting. Nests are built in soft mortar, mud bricks or soft sandstone banks in sheltered positions. Females use their jaws to dig burrows. Inside the burrows, they create oval-shaped cells lining them with waterproof secretions.
(Above:) A male blue-banded bee roosts at night suspended by his mandibles.
(Right:) A group of male blue-banded bees roost together. Males have five abdominal bands, whereas females have only four.
Before depositing an egg, a mixture of nectar and pollen is placed in the cell. Once an egg has been deposited each cell is capped, and when all cells are filled and capped the burrow is closed with a layer of soil. The female then goes in search of another nesting site.
According to J. C. Cardinale (Australian National Insect Collection, Canberra 1968), blue-banded bees live for about 40 days and about three generations hatch during one summer. Baby bees take about seven weeks to hatch and those that do not hatch due to approaching winter, overwinter in their cells, emerging in the following spring.
Male blue-banded bees roost together in small groups at night, out in the open, hanging onto twigs or stems with their mandibles. They vigorously shake their legs and wiggle their abdomens when a new bee arrives to settle. Eventually they all tuck their legs under their bodies to sleep. After warming up in the morning they go on their daily routine of foraging and finding a female to mate with.
Blue-banded bees can be attracted to your garden by making a mud brick. Drill a variety of holes 10-15 mm wide and 25- 50 mm deep before the mud brick dries and place the finished brick in a sheltered position. Alternatively, you can use an extruded brick with core holes, in which the holes are filled with mud. When the mud dries, drill holes for the bees.
Placing soil from an existing blue-banded bee nesting site on top of the brick will help attract females to the new nest. For more information on creating bee walls, there is an excellent factsheet available from www.permaculturenoosa.com.au > How to > Instructions for a Bug Hotel.
References & Further Reading
Cardinale, JC (1968) Australian National Insect Collection, Canberra.
Hogendoorn K, Coventry S, Keller MA (2007) Foraging behaviour of a blue banded bee, Amegilla chlorocyanea in greenhouses: implications for use as tomato pollinators. Apidologie 38 (1) 86-92.
Owen, R (2015) The Australian Beekeeping Manual. Exisle Publishing Pty Ltd.
Bees Suborder Apocrita
Article and photos by Erica Siegel Native bee enthusiast