Masked strangers in the nursery!

by Irene Kelly

I was introduced to native “masked bees” by Dr Luis Mata, entomologist, on a recent visit to the Knox Environment Society (KES) nursery. They were speedily flitting around the flowering Banksias, vying with European bees for nectar and pollen. I was gob smacked as I had never noticed these tiny bees before.  Excitedly, when I returned home I scanned a number of flowering Banksias, but no such luck.  Such a disappointment!

But not for long!

Photograph by Richard Kelly

Further investigation revealed numerous masked bees darting in and out of my copse of Correas.  They were easy to spot resting on the leaves blowing bubbles as they digested pollen. 

Hah! Over the years I have come to understand that everyone except me can attract eastern spinebills, but do you have masked bees? How good is it when you discover new life in your garden!

Fun facts about masked bees

  • Masked bees are solitary, tiny slender black bees less than 10 mm long with distinctive yellow or white markings on their faces.
  • They have smooth, almost hairless bodies, so they can look rather like wasps. However, they are true Australian native bees, collecting nectar and pollen to feed their young.
  • As masked bees do not have the specialized hairs for transporting pollen, they carry pollen back to their nests by swallowing it and then regurgitating it into their nest cell.
  • Without a strong body structure needed to dig their own home, they nest in “pre-owned” tunnels made in pithy plant stems, twigs or pre-existing holes in wood.
  • Each female bee raises her young alone in  individual nest tunnels, lined with her secretions, similar to cellophane, in order to protect the larvae.
  • Some masked bees will nest in narrow drilled holes in Bee Hotels, recognisable by being sealed with a silvery translucent cellophane-like panel.

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