How to Indentify Native Bees An Interactive Workshop with Dr Terry Houston

DRB Report on November Workshop

There are over 2000 species of native bees in Australia and at least 800 of them are in Western Australia, yet many people confuse our native bees with the introduced European honeybee (Apis mellifera). However, those attending Dr Terry Houston’s native bee workshop learnt to tell them apart.

Dr Houston is one of Australia’s leading native bee experts, author of the new book: A guide to native bees of Australia and former Curator of Insects at The Western Australian Museum. He has been studying native bees for over 50 years. He explained that there are 87 genera of native bees across five families: three families of short-tongued bees (Colletidae, Stenotritidae and Halictidae) and two of long-tongued bees (Megachilidae and Apidae.)

Blue banded bee (Amegilla cingulata) photo by Bryony Fremlin.JPG

Of our local bees, the Blue Banded Bee (Amegilla cingulata), B Fremlin, left) is regarded as one of the most beautiful. There are, of course, plenty more including Resin Bees, (Megachilidae), Masked Bees (Colletidae), Leafcutter Bees (Megachilidae) and Sugarbag Bees (Apidae), for example.

Orange browed resin bee (Megachile aurifons) taking over a mud wasps nest photo Rachel Green.png

Terry showed us a video of an Orange-Browed Resin Bee. He also explained how other insects are confused with—or mimic—bees, including Paper Wasps (Polistes dominulus), Drone Flies, Hover Flies, Bee Flies and Potter Wasps.

If you need to separate them, bees have branched hairs on their legs and wasps don’t. Hence having a binocular microscope is a great aid in identification!

Participants at the native bee workshop identifying bees using whatever means is possible!

After the talk, small groups of us were given bee specimens to identify (left, R Green). This raised much excitement as people tried to prove they’d identified the bee correctly. Some bees are tiny and the use of a magnifying lens was a great aid.

We also learnt that only female native bees will sting but they don’t leave their sting in their victim; and while some carry pollen on their legs, others carry pollen underneath their abdomen. We also discovered that native bees use their mandibles for digging; that once a bee becomes adult it stops growing; and that bees are like geckos and can climb up glass. This is only a tiny sample of all that we learnt—there was so much more. Dr Houston’s talk is now available to watch on the DRB Nats YouTube channel.

Workshop talk

The DRB committee has the challenging task of finding activities which please both young and old, amateurs and professionals alike, so we are experimenting with different types of activities. Holding an interactive workshop on one topic, in-depth on a Saturday afternoon—instead of an excursion or a night-time talk—was a big hit. All 40 places were booked quickly. Hopefully, we can present more daytime workshops on natural history of the Perth Hills; please feel free to suggest topics and presenters. Thanks to Terry for trying out a new format of presentation and for making the topic come alive. I have to say it: everyone left buzzing with new and valuable information!

Rachel Green

2 thoughts on “How to Indentify Native Bees An Interactive Workshop with Dr Terry Houston

  1. David you must have a second sense. A talk on Native Bees at the Main Club General Meeting on the 8 March has had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Maybe some time in the near future.

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