Garden Friends: Buzz Pollinators

The following is a transcript of my vlog posted on YouTube. If you would like to watch the video Click here

Blue-banded Bees and Lipotriches Bees are both Australian native buzz pollinators.

Hello, and welcome to my garden. Today I’m sitting here with the Blue Tongue plant. It’s called the Blue Tongue Plant because these berries which are developing here, if you eat too many of them, apparently your tongue goes blue. We never get a huge harvest off these because I suspect we’re losing them to native wildlife which is fine. Now, it’s also known as Native Tibouchina and Melastoma affine is the scientific name. We’re going to leave the discussion of this plant for another video, because today I want to you about two very special buzz pollinators that help me with this plant, because without buzz pollination, this plant won’t produce any berries at all which is the case for a lot of Australian natives. So, let’s go see what buzz pollination is all about.

This is the lovely Australian native shrub, Blue Tongue Plant (Melastoma affine) which requires buzz pollination to set fruit.

Recently I was sitting on my back patio enjoying a lunch break when I heard a loud buzzing. I looked around expecting to see a hornet or a wasp, but was delighted to find a Blue-banded Bee instead! This was only my second time seeing a Blue-banded bee and last time my attempts to photograph it were stymied by its speed and agility. This time I hit record and watched in awe as it buzz pollinated my Blue Tongue Plant. This Australian native stores its pollen inside tiny capsules that release the valuable powder when it is agitated by the vibrations of certain native bees. Without this buzz pollination the pollen remains trapped and the plant doesn’t produce any fruit. Afterwards I examined the petals and discovered little grains of pollen that had fallen from the anthers. I have three of these plants that regularly produce berries so we must have lots of buzz pollinating visitors though we rarely see them.

Pollen spill on a Blue Tongue flower.

Since then I have been regularly checking for pollen spill to see if we’ve had more visitors. Then, a couple of days ago I discovered a different tiny visitor. With some help from a Native Bee group on Facebook, I found out it was from the Lipotriches genus. Another buzz pollinator! Can you see the wings quiver as she buzzes on each anther?

Can you see the pollen pants as she buzz pollinates the flower?

Do you know the species? Please let me know in the comments if you do! With some more research I discovered the reason for so many Australian native plants storing their pollen this way. Apparently plants have to put a lot of work into making pollen and it requires significant proportions of the plant’s nitrogen supplies. Nectar, on the other hand, is made easily and is therefore expendable. Many Australian natives also tailor the positions of their stamens and stigma to maximise the chance of pollen transfer and therefore, fertilization.

Lipotriches Bee in flight.

In this video you can see the pollen pants on this tiny bee. That’s the colloquial expression for the hairs on the back legs that capture and keep the pollen for the bee to carry back to her nest. Both of these bees are solitary. They create a nest on their own and fill little capsules with an egg and food before sealing the nest for the incubation and larval stages of development. Blue-banded Bees tend to nest in hard dirt walls or banks, while bees in the Lipostriches genus tend to burrow in the ground.

 These truly are garden friends. Without them many plants would not be able to produce fruit or seed. I feel really lucky to have had these encounters recently. My next goal is to find out where the Blue-banded Bees in my garden are roosting at night. That’s right! They roost, often in groups, sleeping together on sticks or canes of plants.

My encounter with the Blue-banded Bee inspired many sketches and an attempt to capture her beauty in watercolour.

Thanks for watching. As always, let me know if there’s something you’d like me to vlog or blog about in the comments. I’d also love to hear about your native bee encounters!

Wishing you delightful garden encounters,

Janegrowsgardenrooms

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