INTRODUCED SPECIES OF BEES IN AUSTRALIA
We have 1,700 species of Australian native bees, but a number of bee species from overseas have also become established in Australia. The European Honey Bee was introduced deliberately for honey production but the four other species listed below appear to have arrived in Australia accidentally. All have now established feral populations in our bush land.
The European Honey Bee (12 to 15 mm long) was first successfully brought into Australia in about 1822 by early colonists for honey production. Apiarists in Australia now keep hundreds of thousands of managed hives of these bees, providing valuable services in honey production and crop pollination.
Above: the European Honeybee that is now widespread in the Australian bush.
However, swarms of European Honeybees also escaped into our bushland where they have established feral nests in most parts of Australia, except for arid areas. The impact of these feral Honeybees on our native flora and fauna is controversial and difficult to quantify (see below) but they do provide valuable pollination services to farmers in many areas. European Honeybees are some of the most common bees that people notice in their gardens.
Asian Honey Bees (10 mm long) look very similar to European Honey Bees but they are smaller, less hairy and have more pronounced black/brown and yellow stripes.
Above: the European Honey Bee (left), used in Australia for honey production, compared with the recently introduced Asian Honey Bee (right). Photo by Paul Zborowski.
A nest of the Java strain of Asian Honeybees was discovered in Cairns, Queensland, in 2007. Unfortunately an eradication program failed and by 2017 these feral bees had spread in Queensland from Mena Creek in the south, to Mossman in the north, to Atherton in the west. More Asian Honeybees were detected in Townsville in 2016 but it is hoped that the Townsville population has been successfully eradicated.
Asian Honeybees are considered a pest species because they are likely to compete with native bees and also impact the Australian honey industry. A particular concern is that Asian Honeybees are natural hosts of Varroa mites, a serious parasite of European Honeybees. Read more about feral Asian Honeybees.
Australia has no native Bumblebee species. However, European Bumblebees were introduced to Tasmania (accidentally or illegally) in 1992 and now have spread across most of Tasmania. The European Bumblebee is large, fat and very hairy, with broad black and yellow bands. Workers are about 8 to 22 mm long, while queens may be up to 25 mm long.
These feral Bumblebees pose a serious risk to Australian wildlife and could also substantially threaten agriculture by helping exotic weeds to spread. Quarantine services in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland are keen to keep this exotic bee out of mainland Australia. Read more about the impact of feral European Bumblebees in Australia, or find out who to contact if you spot a Bumblebee on the Australian mainland.
The invasive Carder Bee (7 mm long) from South Africa has a rather thickset body. The females carry pollen on an array of stiff bristles under the abdomen. It is mostly black but has several white bands across the abdomen. These white bands are solid stripes on the body itself. Note: there are some species of native bees which resemble the Carder Bees, but those native bees have bands of white hair on their abdomens.
Above: in this great photo by Erica Siegel of the introduced Carder Bee, the solid white bands on the bee's abdomen are clearly seen.
The South African Carder Bee was first discovered in 2000 near Brisbane, Queensland, but by 2015 it had spread northwards to Rockhampton in Queensland, and southwards to New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Melbourne in Victoria, and even Whyalla in South Australia. It likes to nest in man-made cavities such as electrical meter boxes and window frames, and it seems to be hitching rides as we transport items like this around the countryside.
It collects fluffy fibres from plant leaves and makes a nest that resembles yellowish lumps of cotton wool. Its name 'Carder Bee' refers to the carding process of combing wool fibres before they are spun.
The metallic green Emerald Furrow Bee (6 to 8 mm long), originally from the Mediterranean, was discovered in 2004 in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Surveys in 2008 by Dr John Gollan and volunteers showed that it had already spread as far as Sydney and Tamworth and was abundant in some locations.
Above: the metallic green Emerald Furrow Bee that has become established in NSW. Photo by Joaquin Portelo.
This exotic bee could compete with native bees and aid the spread of exotic weeds. However, no attempts to control its spread are being made.
Impact of Feral Bees in Australia
Ecosystems are very complex and it is difficult to quantify the effect of a particular feral bee on our environment. However, feral bees may:
-- compete with our native bees for nectar, pollen and nest sites,
-- change the way that our native wildflowers are pollinated,
-- spread parasites and diseases to other Australian bees, and
-- help spread exotic weeds in Australia.
It is important that we all work together to control the spread of feral bees in Australia.
Citizen Scientists have made valuable contributions in monitoring the spread of feral Asian Honeybees, Carder Bees and Emerald Furrow Bees in Australia. You could help too by taking photographs of unusual bees that you spot and uploading them to BowerBird website. The records will be assessed by bee specialists. Your observations may help to prevent further feral bee invasions in Australia!
Browse photos of Australia's major groups of native bees, in Aussie Bee's Native Bee Photo Gallery.
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