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Blue-banded bees: the buzz from Australia

I have been a fan of the Australian native blue-banded bee, Amegilla cingulata, for a long time, mostly because of its gorgeous blue-striped abdomen. Because these bees are buzz pollinators, they make a significant agricultural contribution wherever they occur. According to Wikipedia, blue-banded bees assist in the pollination of about 30% of Australian crops.

Like the honey bee, the blue-banded bee is in the Apidae family. Unlike honey bees, however, blue-banded bees are solitary ground-nesters. They build tunnels in the ground or in soft rocks, one female per nest.

Buzz pollination, also called sonication, is a process in which the bee hangs onto a flower and vibrates her muscles furiously. The rapid vibrations release pollen from deep inside the flower. Many agricultural crops, including tomatoes, eggplants, blueberries, and cranberries require buzz pollination. But most bees, including honey bees, are not built for this amazing trick.

According to an article in ABC Science (Australia), the blue-banded bee dislodges the pollen by banging her head onto the anthers of the flower 350 times per second—a speed that’s beyond my comprehension. Compare that to the bumble bee, queen of buzz pollination here in the states. The bumble bee buzz pollinates by banging her chest into the anthers, but at a leisurely pace of only 240 times per second. Laggards!

The YouTube video posted below was taken by Callin Switzer. It shows a blue-banded bee pollinating a cherry tomato flower. The action, less than one second in real time, is filmed in super slow motion. It’s unclear to me when or how she gets the pollen into her tibial scopa, but based on the size of her load, she obviously knows how to do it.

Special thanks to Kurt Verkest for sending the link.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Comments

Jeffrey Rosas
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like

Mike Riter
Reply

Type in “Large bumblebees on the decline/Poughkeepsie Journal” and “Where have all the bumblebees gone/My Valley/Poughkeepsie Journal” for a look at the weird decline in the Hudson Valley. AP Style won’t allow “bumble bee” for now???

Lorna
Reply

Hello,

I live in Melbourne Australia. Each summer, I look forward to seeing my 1st blue banded bee. Yesterday was the day. I was so excited. I have usually heard them before seeing them and now I know why.

A terrific article, I love your site.

Thank you

Philippa Burgess
Reply

Brilliant and cute! The world of the pollinator is always intriguing and fascinating!

Nancy
Reply

Rusty,

Any idea how long this 47-second clip is in real time? Noticed the bee’s head bobbing as she extracted nectar, which we can’t see with eyeball observation.

Seeing the wings backing and rising at the same time is also amazing.

The banded abdomen reminds me strongly of our Augochlora bee.

Fascinating! Thanks!
Nan

Rusty
Reply

Nancy,

The real-time action is less than one second. The bobbing is the bee’s head pounding on the anthers to release the pollen.

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