We do a lot of talking about the wonderous, superhero honeybee. However, Australia is home to a huge 1654 species of native bees that don’t get anywhere near the attention they deserve.
Coming in all shapes, sizes and colours, with a range of behaviours and living habits, native bees are fascinating, nuanced and mystifying creatures, even for beekeepers.
In some ground-breaking news that’s hot off the press just this week, an incredible re-discovery has been made in Queensland: a native bee species, Pharohylaeus lactiferous or the rare cloaked bee, was found for the first time in 100 years! So, I am completely thrilled to bring James Dorey – the scientist and PhD candidate who found the cloaked bee after its long hiding – to the BEES WITH BEN beekeeping podcast for episode 38.
As James described recently in his article on The Conversation, the cloaked bee (its name, “pharo” meaning “cloaked”), has three abdominal segments that overlay one another in a cloak formation. And as a bee wearing a big cloak might suggest, this mysterious little insect has always been tricky to find – between 1900 and 1923, two bee collectors found six specimens of P. lactiferous, but no more have been discovered until now.
James describes: “I found the cloaked bee P. lactiferus during a major east coast sampling effort of more than 225 unique sites. The discovery, and what I learnt from it, helped me find more specimens at two additional sites. It also made me wonder why P. lactiferus had been missing for so long. Is it naturally rare, hard to find, or perhaps threatened?” Interestingly, the cloaked bee was found on two plants, both with fiery red flowers: the firewheel tree and the Illawarra flame tree. As bees don’t see red, red plants are often pollinated by birds, and scientists therefore potentially don’t sample this type of flora. Who knew, this would be where James would make his remarkable discovery.
Tune in to hear James and I discuss the fascinating and rare cloaked bee, how James made his discovery, and the wonderous world of native bees!