Saturday, 8 August 2015

South African Bees

Most South Africans are totally unaware that there are over 1 000 known species of bees in Southern Africa

Carpenter bee Xylocopa caffra

I have had an interest in honey bees since a was a young child and have kept hives since I was a teenager. Although I was aware that there were other bee species from an early age I knew little about them until many years later. My interest in wild bees was awaked in 1988 while visiting the Garten der Schmetterlinge Friedrichsruh , Butterfly Garden Friedrichsruh the ancestral home of Otto von Bismarck the first Imperial Chancellor (Reichskanzler) of the German Empire which is situated a few kilometers east of Hamburg.

Giant carpenter bee xylocopa flavorufa

A year or two later I was given the booklet Wildbienen –Schutz in Dorf und Stadt Wild bees - Protection in Town and City which greatly increased my interest in wild bees prompting me to implement many of the suggestions in the booklet in my own garden in Durban and to closely observe our own local wild bees at every opportunity, an interest that has remained to this very day.

Wild bees - Protection in Town and City

Bees which are related to wasps and ants belong to the Hymenoptera order of insects, characterised by their restricted waists.
Bees are the most important group of pollinators, almost all bees are pollinators, but only a few species make honey.
Pollination is often an intricate interaction between the plant and the pollinator both pollinator and plant biodiversity together maintain healthy ecosystems.

Wild bees
South Africa has many unique wild bee species belonging to the following families;

Colletidae - Membrane bees are often referred to collectively as plasterer bees or polyester bees, due to the method of smoothing the walls of their nest cells with secretions applied with their mouthparts; these secretions dry into a cellophane-like lining.
HalictidaeThey are commonly referred to as "sweat bees" (especially the smaller species), as they are often attracted to perspiration, which are usually dark-colored and often metallic in appearance
Melittidae - They are typically small to moderate-sized bees, several species specialize on floral oils as larval food rather than pollen,
Megachilidae - are most commonly known as mason bees and leafcutter bees, reflecting the materials from which they build their nest cells.  Megachilid bees are among the world's most efficient pollinators because of their energetic swimming-like motion in the reproductive structures of flowers, which moves pollen, as needed for pollination.
Anthophoridae  - Carpenter bees which as their name indicates nest in tunnels bored into wood they are solitary bees.
Apidae- Honey bees represented by Apis mellifera and Mopane bees Meliponula species

African Honey Bee Apis mellifera scutellata

Wild bees are more efficient pollinators that honey bees
A recent global study investigated the role and contribution of wild pollinators and managed honeybees as a pollination service to a range of annual and perennial fruit, seed, nut, and stimulant crops across 41 sites worldwide. This study indicated that crop fields with high numbers of both honeybees and wild pollinators resulted in sufficient pollen deposition. In contrast, it was shown that wild insect visitation alone significantly increased fruit set, by twice as much as honeybees did, suggesting wild pollinators provide more effective crop pollination. Moreover, fruit set was shown to increase consistently with visitation from wild pollinators and increased with visitation by a diverse assemblage of pollinators independent of honeybee visitation. The additive interaction between non-Apis pollinators and honeybees has been shown to increase fruit set. Recommendations for optimal pollination therefore sometimes call for the integration of wild pollinators with managed honeybees.

Honey Bees
Twenty-eight subspecies of Honey Bees Apis mellifera (the Western honeybee) occur across Asia, Europe and Africa, but only two are found in South Africa, the African honey bee Apis mellifera scutellata and the Cape honey bee Apis mellifera capensis. The oldest known honeybee specimen dates from 100 million years ago. South Africa also has a unique problem in that the Cape honeybee (Apis mellifera capensis) can become a social parasite if introduced in the other subspecies’ (Apis mellifera scutellata) range. To remedy this, a dividing line has been drawn to separate the area in which Apis mellifera scutellata and Apis mellifera capensis can be used for beekeeping activities and no bees may be transported across the demarcation line.

African Honey Bee Apis mellifera scutellata

Honey bee pests and diseases
Much has been written about honeybee colonies around the world experiencing problems with the varroa mite pest (Varroa destructor) and diseases like, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and American foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae subsp. larvae) as a result of human interferences in regards to selective breeding, introducing foreign species into local populations and many other factors. In most cases the decline in honey bee populations can be counteracted by environmentally sound farming practices that protect natural vegetation alongside agricultural lands to allow populations of wild bees to thrive which will do the pollinating of crops that had been left entirely to unnatural practices such as transporting honey bee colonies into the orchards and fields during the flowering period to do the pollinating in the absence of large enough populations of wild bees.

African Honey Bees are not being affected to any where near that same degree as the European Honey Bee which is kept in most other parts of the world because they are more robust and resilient to pests and disease than the European Honey Bee. This natural immunity has left the African Honey Bees mostly unaffected by the global Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) reported extensively in Europe and America as well as American Foulbrood Disease (AFB) is caused by a bacterium known as Paenibascillus larvae, so named due to the fact that it infects honeybee larvae

Attracting bees into your garden
Many of the more specialist wild bees are only attracted to our local plants therefore the bigger the variety of local grasses, ground cover plants, shrubs and trees that one has in the garden the larger the number of bee species that one will attract into your garden. The more natural the plants are arranged in the garden the more your garden will attract bees. Occasionally allow portions of your lawn to flower this will attract the most amazing number of bees including honey bees which will come to collect the pollen. 

My garden with its very large number of plants species in particular a large number of grass species attracts the most amazing variety and number of bees species. 

A plant that attracts an extraordinarily large numbers of bee species is Lilly Grass or Weeping Anthericum. This plant attracts more bee species from large carpenter bees to the very smallest bees than any other plant that I know. It is always interesting to watch these plants when they are being visited by the large bee species in particular the Carpenter bee Xylocopa caffra, because as the bee lands on the flower its weight causes the flower to drop down and as soon as it leaves to attend to the next flower it pops up again setting the whole plant in motion.

Click on the photo below to go to my blog article

The Star flower Hypoxis hemerocallidea is a charming little grass land forb that also does its fair share to bring plenty of bee species into the garden.

Click on the photo below to go to my blog article

Delospermun linearum, these little plants that I grew from a small cutting collected at Cato Ridge which I growing en mass in trays on my carport roof as well as growing in my grassland gardens is like a magnet to a very big variety of bees

Delospermun linearum

Nesting opportunities
Many bee species can be easily attracted to breed in holes of between 3 to 10 mm drilled into pieces of hard wood which are hung up in a warm dry location.

If anyone is interested in more information on attracting bees into the garden or making breeding stations for bees please contact me.

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design and Rehabilitation Specialist


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