For some years I've been admiring, watching and photographing blue banded bees. I learnt early on that it was anticipated we have just one species of blue banded bee in the Albury area - Amegilla Zonamegilla asserta. There are other species of blue banded bee in other parts of Australia and it's quite common for an area to have more than one species.
This week we've been incredibly fortunate to have renowned native bee enthusiast and researcher, Dr Michael Batley, join us for some of the activities locally to promote the Wild Pollinator Count. In a conversation with Michael I asked about blue banded bees and he agreed that he would expect our area to be home to just A. asserta. I quizzed him a bit about the features that are used to classify the different species, and to what extent the variations in the size, markings and color of the bees I watch might be simply diversity within that species, or whether perhaps there might be other species in our area.
You could put my enthusiasm to record additional species locally down to a wild imagination or my naivety, but it is something I've not been able to let go. Michael noted that just because other species haven't been recorded doesn't mean they aren't here. It got me thinking even more about what I've seen, and raring to check my photos for the features he'd mentioned.
Shortly after our conversation, while standing beside a geranium in the Albury Botanic Gardens, two blue banded bees buzzed by the flowers. Michael noted that the first indeed looked like A. asserta. But the second bee caught all our eyes. He swiftly scooped the bee into his net and transferred it to a plastic bag so we could take a better look. (This method allows insects to be caught, observed and released ... although Michael makes it look a whole lot easier than I suspect it actually is). Sure enough, after examination with a magnifying glass, Michael announced he was confident that the bee was not A. asserta!
While we don't yet know which Amegilla species it is for sure, it seems clear there IS more than one species of blue banded bee in our area! What a find! Just to clarify, this isn't a claim of a "brand new" species ... but a sighting of a species not previously recorded in our area. Which is still a very exciting outcome!
Fast forward 24 hours and the S2S BioBlitz and Wild Pollinator Count schools' day finds Michael Batley, Dr Manu Saunders and I out at the Wirraminna Environmental Education Centre, getting ready for another day of activities. We'd been talking native bees on the drive out (of course!).
Before we had even unpacked the car we took a quick look at the plants as you enter the grounds. I commented about some of the pollinators we'd seen on the blue bells (Wahlenbergia) and Dianella during another session there earlier in the week.
We saw some blue banded bees on the Dianella and Michael calmly announced that he thought this bee looked to be Amegilla Notomegilla chlorocyanea. Out comes the net again, and the magnifying lens ... Yes!
It would appear that there are at least THREE species of blue banded bee in our area!
Talk about a big week!!
I'm so grateful for the ongoing journey I've found myself on as an amateur naturalist and citizen scientist. I've been fortunate to meet and make connections with so many knowledgeable and generous people along the way - you may recall that Dr Ken Walker also visited our area a couple of years ago (and says he's still trying to recover from gruelling schedule I created, sorry Ken).
I've also learnt heaps through social media and particularly the Bowerbird.org.au website for recording sightings, getting help with identification and seeing the multitude of wonders that others are also contributing.
And more recently, I've gained a friend and mentor in Manu Saunders, initially by being asked to collaborate to create the Wild Pollinator Count, but also I've enjoyed discussing our sightings, having her insights into academic research and going 'spotting' together. I feel obliged to warn you that Manu's twitter feed and blog should come with a disclaimer about how much time you might need to keep up with the fascinating things she writes and shares!
You never know what you might see - why not make the time to take a look? You too might be surprised how much you can learn from your observations and those of others. There are still a few days left in this round of the Wild Pollinator Count - if you've got ten minutes and one flowering plant nearby, you can join in.
And yes, this has only fuelled my enthusiasm for blue banded bees, so stay tuned for more about them soon.