I was really excited to discover some of these attractive looking bees on a cassia shrub near the house recently. I walked past it one day and I could hear an intermittent buzzing sound. On closer inspection, I found these incredible blue banded bees among the blooms.
It’s a very striking looking insect, you’d definitely notice it, with its iridescent blue stripes across its black abdomen and being 12mm in size.
Since I had never seen one of these bees before (except for other people’s photos), I did some research on the internet and came up with some interesting information about them.
The blue banded bee, amegilla cingulata, is a native bee to Australia. It is found everywhere in the country with the exception of Northern Territory and Tasmania.
The blue banded bee is a solitary bee, and they are not aggressive although they can sting.
It’s also easy to distinguish the sexes, with the females having four stripes and males having five.
Not only are these bees amazing to look at, but they are amazing in how they pollinate the flowers.
Blue banded bees are only one of a few native bees that use a process called buzz pollination (which the Honey Bee is incapable of). The bee grabs the flower with its legs, rests its wings, then vibrates its thorax muscles and somehow transfers these vibrations to its head. The bee then head butts the tubular anther of the flower about 350 times per second in order to dislodge the pollen so the bee can collect it. Every time the bee rests on a flower, you will hear a distinct buzzing sound as it collects pollen.
This technique differs to the buzz pollination method of the bumble bee found in the Northern Hemisphere. In this process, the bumble bee wraps its legs around the flower to hold on tight, then bites down on the anthers. The bee’s flight muscles then contract extremely rapidly (hundreds of times a second) to vibrate its entire body and causing the pollen inside the anthers to spill out for collection.
I managed to get this quick video of a blue banded bee visiting a few flowers. Turn up the volume and listen closely and you can hear the buzz when the bee rests on each flower.
It’s incredible just how loud that buzzing sound is. The above video was filmed using a zoom and I was a good 5 feet away from the bee!
I found this video on YouTube of a blue banded bee using buzz pollination in slow motion. It’s incredible to see, especially when you realise the bee does this 350 times per second!
It is believed that around 8% of the world’s flowering plants require buzz pollination, or sonication as it’s also known. These plants include several Australian natives as well as common food crops like tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, chillies, and blueberries (basically any plant that has tubular anthers in the flower). So with their fast and efficient pollination method, the blue banded bees are quite valuable to us and are definitely the farmer’s friend!