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WHICH NATIVE BEES ARE IN YOUR AREA?

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An Introductory Guide from the Australian Native Bee Research Centre

The Australian continent has steamy tropical rainforests in the far north, snow capped mountains in the south, and hot dry deserts in the centre. Native bees can be found in most of Australia’s diverse habitats. Multitudes teem through the carpets of flowers in our heathlands and swarm around the blossoms at the tops of gum trees. Some species burrow into the desert sands, whilst others nest inside straggly trees near isolated waterholes. Which native bees are found in your area?

Australian stingless bee

Native bees live in all parts of Australia. This stingless bee (Tetragonula carbonaria) lives in Queensland and NSW. More Photos

For this Introductory Guide we have chosen ten major groups of Australian native bees. The states and territories of Australia in which these bees have been found are shown in the following Location Table. Click on the name of each bee group in the table to read a brief account of its nest and behaviour.

Australian Native Bees
State-by-State Location Table
  QLD
&
NSW
ACT VIC SA WA
&
NT
TAS
1. Stingless
Bees
Y       Y  
2. Yellow & Black
Carpenter Bees
Y       Y  
3. Green
Carpenter Bees
Y ?   Y    
4. Reed
Bees
Y Y Y Y Y Y
5. Blue Banded
Bees
Y Y Y Y Y  
6. Teddy Bear
Bees
Y ? Y Y Y  
7. Leafcutter
Bees
Y Y Y Y Y Y
8. Resin
Bees
Y Y Y Y Y Y
9. Homalictus
Bees
Y Y Y Y Y Y
10. Masked
Bees
Y Y Y Y Y Y

Abbreviations on this page: QLD = Queensland; NSW = New South Wales; ACT = Australian Capital Territory; VIC = Victoria; SA = South Australia; WA = Western Australia; NT = Northern Territory; TAS = Tasmania.

The information in this Location Table is based on the records of the Atlas of Living Australia. There is still much to be learned about our Australian native bees! For instance, it is unclear whether there are stable populations of Green Carpenter Bees and Teddy Bear Bees in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Your observations could add to the knowledge of our Australian wildlife. You can contribute your observations and photographs through BowerBird website.

More detailed information about these fascinating species can be found in Native Bees of the Sydney Region: A Field Guide. And visit the Aussie Bee Photo Gallery for more photographs of our colourful native bees!

Nests and Behaviour of Ten Major Native Bee Groups in Australia

1. Stingless Bees
Tetragonula* and Austroplebeia
* Previously called Trigona - Why was their name changed?
(Eleven Australian species)
More photos of Stingless Bees

Australia’s own native honey bees are tiny (3 - 5 mm), black and stingless! Inside their resinous nest are a queen, males, and hundreds or even thousands of worker bees. They usually nest inside hollow trees but in northern areas they also nest in urban situations such as inside wall cavities or underneath concrete footpaths.

Brood comb of Tetragonula hockingsi stingless bees

Tetragonula hockingsi workers (previously called Trigona hockingsi) on their brood comb

The Stingless Bees are the only native bees currently available for sale in Australia. Beekeepers transfer the nests into small hive boxes and can propagate the nests by splitting. These hives can be used for honey production and crop pollination.

The climate of QLD and the NT is ideal for Stingless Bees because they are tropical species. They also thrive in northern NSW and on the NSW Mid North Coast.

Stingless bee areas in Australia

Stingless bees are mainly found in the northern and eastern areas of Australia

Stingless Bees are found in Sydney, on the eastern side of the Blue Mountains and in coastal areas down to Bega. However, the climate in these areas is marginal for Stingless Bees, and boxed hives need to be carefully sited and managed. Harvesting honey from hives is not recommended in these areas. The bees will not fly below 18 degrees C and they need the excess honey they collect during summer to survive the long winter months.

Stingless Bees are not found in other areas of NSW, in the ACT, in VIC, SA or TAS. Hives would not survive in these areas without special artificial support.

In WA, Stingless Bees are only found from the Hamersley Ranges northwards. Local WA authorities strongly oppose the introduction of Stingless Bees to more southern areas as they may disturb the delicate ecology of the state’s beautiful wildflowers.

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Do Any Native Bees Sting?
Australia has over 1,700 species of native bees. Only 11 of these species are stingless! These are the native honey-producing bees (Tetragonula - previously called Trigona -- and Austroplebeia). All of the other species of native bees in Australia can sting. More details...


2. Yellow and Black Carpenter Bees
Xylocopa (Koptortosoma)
(Six Australian species)
More photos of Carpenter Bees

These 15 to 24 mm long bees are the largest native bees in Australia. The females have a glossy black abdomen and bright yellow fur on the thorax. Males are covered uniformly with yellowy brown or olive fur. They are called Carpenter Bees because they cut nest burrows in soft timber such as the dead limbs of mango trees. These Carpenter Bees like a warm climate, and in NSW and WA they are restricted to the northern areas. They are also found in QLD and NT. Similar species of Carpenter Bees in other countries are good pollinators of passionfruit.

Great Carpenter Bees Xylocopa

These yellow and black Carpenter Bees are the largest bees in Australia. They are also known as 'Great Carpenter Bees'.

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Are There Any Bumble Bees in Australia?
Australia has no native species of Bumble Bees. Feral European Bumble Bees (Bombus terrestris) were accidentally introduced to Tasmania in 1992 and now have become widespread throughout that state. However, fortunately they have not reached the Australian mainland yet.


3. Green Carpenter Bees
Xylocopa (Lestis), formerly in genus Lestis
(Two Australian species)
More photos of Green Carpenter Bees

These spectacular bees (up to 17 mm long) are glossy metallic green with tints of yellow or blue. They cut 7 to 10 mm wide nest burrows in the flower stalks of the grass tree (Xanthorrhoea) or in other soft pithy dead timber. They are mainly found in QLD and NSW. Landclearing has caused the loss of these stunning bees from VIC and mainland areas of SA although they can still be found on Kangaroo Island in SA.

a Lestis carpenter bee

Green Carpenter Bees are glossy metallic green, with furry black hind legs for carrying pollen.

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4. Reed Bees
Exoneura and Braunsapis
(Over 80 Australian species)
More photos of Reed Bees

Reed Bees are slender black bees less than 8 mm long. Some species have a red abdomen. They nest inside dry pithy twigs in plants such as raspberries and blackberries or in the dead fronds of tree ferns. Today many nests can also be found in dead canes of the weed Lantana (more details).

a native reed bee

Many of the slender Reed Bees have a yellow patch on their face.

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5. Blue Banded Bees
Amegilla
(15 Australian species)
More photos of Blue Banded Bees

These bees (mostly 8-13 mm long), with glittering stripes of blue or whitish hair across their black abdomens, are often seen darting around the flowers of lavenders and abelias. The females build nests in shallow burrows in the ground but they may also nest in mudbrick houses or in soft mortar. Each female builds her own nest burrow but many bees often nest together in the one place. Research has shown that Blue Banded Bees could be valuable pollinators of greenhouse tomatoes. See Aussie Bee Online Article 10.

Blue banded bee and a tomato flower

A blue banded bee approaching a tomato flower inside a crop greenhouse

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6. Teddy Bear Bees
Amegilla (Asaropoda)
(About 25 Australian species)
More photos of Teddy Bear Bees

Most species of these rotund furry brown bees are 7 to 15 mm long. They build shallow nest burrows in soft soil and sometimes nest underneath houses. Each female builds her own nest burrow but many bees may nest together in the one location.

a native teddy bear bee

A chubby Teddy Bear Bee with her thick brown fur coat.

In WA there is a very large related species (nearly 20 mm long) called the Dawson’s Burrowing Bee (Amegilla dawsoni). It nests in groups of up to 10,000 in arid clay pans and mud flats.

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7. Leafcutter Bees
Megachile
(About 40 Australian species)
More photos of Leaf Cutter Bees

Beewatchers often first discover these amazing 6 to 15 mm long bees when they notice rows of neat circular cuts on the edges of some leaves in their garden. Leafcutters use the disks of leaf as a nest building material. They particularly like the soft leaves of roses, Bauhinia and Buddleja.

a native leaf cutter bee

A wonderful photograph of a leafcutter bee in action, contributed by Peter O.

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8. Resin Bees
Megachile, formerly in genus Chalicodoma
(About 100 Australian species)
More photos of Resin Bees

Resin Bees come in many colours and sizes. For example there are large black 14 mm bees with white tufts of hair, and small 8 mm black bees with bright orange abdomens. They nest in pre-existing holes or gaps in timber or stonework. They are called Resin Bees because they collect resins and gums to build partitions between their brood cells and to seal their nest holes. Beekeepers sometimes notice Resin Bees hanging around Stingless Bee hives, trying to ‘borrow’ a little resin for their nests. They are common residents in Bee Hotels.

a native resin bee

This Resin Bees with an orange abdomen is collecting a little of the resin produced by a stingless bee colony

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9. Homalictus Bees
Homalictus
(Over 40 Australian species)
More photos of Homalictus Bees

Although very small (most less than 8 mm long), the glittering Homalictus Bees come in a dazzling array of colours. ‘Golden blue’, ‘coppery red’ and ‘green tinged with purple, red or gold’ are just a few of the colours listed by scientists. Homalictus Bees dig intricate branching nests in the ground. Many females may live together in each nest, taking turns to guard the narrow nest entrance. One nest was found to be occupied by over 160 females!

Native homalictus bees

The jewel-like colours of the tiny Homalictus bees.

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10. Masked Bees
Amphylaeus, Hylaeus and Meroglossa
(Over 150 Australian species)
More photos of Masked Bees

These slender black bees (most less than 10 mm long) are called ‘Masked Bees’ because they have pale markings on their faces. Many species also have a distinctive yellow spot on the thorax. Masked Bees have very little hair and carry pollen to their nests by swallowing it. The nests are usually in pithy stems or pre-existing holes in wood. Masked Bees weave their brood cells from an amazing cellophane-like secretion.

a native masked bee

Masked Bees are shiny and nearly hairless, and many have a bright yellow spot on their back.

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A Final Word to the Australian Bee-Watcher
Australia has over 1,700 species of native bees. During the warmer months you have a good chance of seeing native bees no matter where in Australia you live. We hope you enjoy exploring Australia’s magnificent native bees in your local gardens and bushland!


Like to Know More?
Australia’s first field guide on native bees, Native Bees of the Sydney Region, provides colour photographs and detailed descriptions of many common Australian native bees.

31 of the most easily-recognised Sydney species are included. Over 20 of these species are also found in Queensland and Victoria. Available as pdf ebook.


Learn more...

stingless native bees

More about Australian Stingless Bees


bluebanded bee

More about Blue Banded Bees

Explore Australian native bees...

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