Aussie Headbangers, Blue Banded Bees

Blue Banded Bee

Move over heavy metal music fans because there is a new “headbanger” in town. Introducing the amazing Australian blue banded bees. 

Of the more than 1,500 different kinds of bees Down Under, blue banded bees are one of the most beautiful.

They are approximately a half inch long with gorgeous bands of metallic blue hairs that are so thick they resemble fur across their black abdomens.

Blue banded bees are solitary. Each female bee mates and then builds a solitary nest in a shallow burrow in clay or soil, or sometimes in mud bricks. She deposits a single egg, a drop of honey and a dollop of protein-rich plant pollen, and then seals the nest.

Many blue banded bees build their nest burrows in the same spot — close to one another — much like neighboring homes in a village. 

Blue banded bees perform a special type of pollination called sonification or buzz pollination. Some flowers hide their pollen inside tiny capsules. A blue banded bee can grasp a flower and shiver her flight muscles, causing the pollen to shoot out of the capsule. Until very recently their story ended here. 

With the aid of some very sophisticated cutting-edge high speed 200-frames-per-second video equipment, my colleagues in Adelaide, South Australia discovered that the blue banded bees vibrate at 350 cycles per second, more than 110 cycles per second faster than the former vibrating champion: North American bumblebees.

In addition to buzzing at an astounding rate, the Aussie bees were seen on camera extracting more pollen at a faster rate by banging their heads against the flower’s anther and thereby dislodging pollen at a lightening speed! 

Tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, lentils, peas and chilies are grown in Australian greenhouses and mechanically pollinated. In North America and Western Europe, bumblebees are used in greenhouses to pollinate the aforementioned plants. In Australia, on the other hand, since bumblebees are not native they are not used because it is against the law to introduce exotic insects. 

Blue banded “headbanger” bees are now being used as pollinators inside Australian greenhouses. I predict that they will commercially replace mechanical pollination because they spend even less time on flowers than bumblebees and buzz at an even higher frequency.

Bees are breathtaking creatures; they are most worthy of our admiration and protection. Bees provide us with almost 40 percent of all food on our dinner plates each night. 

It is time to globally ban bee-, soil– and water-killing insecticides called neonicotinoids before they destroy all nature’s golden pollinators, because 7.4 billion humans cannot live without healthy bees worldwide. 

Earth Dr Reese Halter is the author of “The Incomparable Honeybee and the Economics of Pollination.”