Blue-Banded Bees

Two blue banded bees holding onto a twig whilst they rest
Blue-Banded Bee Classification
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Apidae
Tribe: Anthophorini
Genus: Amegilla
Subgenera Notomegilla and Zonamegilla [1]
Species: Fourteen species of blue banded bees are currently recognized: Notomegilla aeruginosa, N. chlorocyanea, Zonamegilla adelaidae, Z. asserta, Z. alpha, Z. thorogoodi, Z. cingulata, Z. indistincta, Z. murrayensis, Z. karlba, Z. paeninsulae, Z. pulchra, Z. walkeri, and Z. viridicingulata. 

The blue-banded bee is a species of solitary bee that belongs to two subgenera that are indigenous to Australia, Notomegilla and Zonamegilla. 

Although there are approximately 252 species of blue-banded bees in the genus Amegilla, only a few actually possess blue bands on their abdomens. They are primarily those species belonging to the Notomegilla and Zonamegilla subgenera.

There are several well-studied species of blue-banded bees, including Amegilla cingulata and Amegilla zonata. The majority of information about blue-banded bees comes from these two species.

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    Where Can Blue-Banded Bees Be Found?

    In Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, there are numerous species of blue-banded bees belonging to the Amegilla genus. Species with blue bands, however, are predominantly found in Australia, Singapore, India, and Sri Lanka. [2][3]

    The blue-banded bee is rarely found in temperate climates, such as the United States, Canada, Europe, or Russia.

    Why Are They Called Blue-Banded Bees?

    Blue-banded bees are named after the prominent blue bands that appear on their abdomens. In contrast to honey bees, which have yellow or orange stripes, blue-banded bees have pale to bright blue stripes, sometimes tinged with orange.

    Amegilla zonata is derived from the Latin zonatus, meaning “belted” and refers to the blue stripes on the abdomen of blue-banded bees. 

    Aegilla cingulata derives its name from Latin cingulata, which means “girded ones” referring to the abdominal stripes of the blue-banded bee

    How to Identify a Blue-Banded Bee

    In order to identify blue-banded bees, look for the blue stripes on their abdomens, varying in color from a bright metallic blue to a faded, almost brownish blue or even a white-blue almost.

    Blue-banded bees of Amegilla cingulata are approximately 10-12 mm long and have four or five blue stripes depending on their sex.[4] There are four blue bands on the female blue-banded bee, while there are five on the male.

    The blue-banded bees of Amegilla zonata measure approximately 11-13 mm in length, and their abdomens have dark metallic stripes.[5]

    Close up side view of a blue banded bee resting on a stick
    The dark metallic stripes on the abdomen of a blue-banded bee help to identify this species of solitary bee

    In spite of their resemblance to the species Amegilla korotonensis, they are larger than this other species of blue-banded bee. In addition, their blue hue is darker and more intense than that of A. korotonensis.

    Generally, blue-banded bees have black or dark brown abdomens surrounding their blue bands.

    The blue-banded bee has a brownish orange head with yellowish or brown markings on its face. There is a large and wide set of eyes on the face of a blue-banded bee.

    Where Do Blue-Banded Bees Live?

    Solitary bees, such as the blue-banded bee, live in individual nests in which only one bee resides. Because blue-banded bees are solitary they do not have a queen or produce honey.

    Unlike social bees, which build hives where many bees live together, a blue-banded bee simply mates and lays its eggs in an individual nest. Each blue-banded bee constructs its own nest, which is typically 10 cm deep. [7]

    It is pertinent to note that male blue-banded bees do not burrow at all, which means that they do not build nests as females do.

    Typically, female blue-banded bees nest in soil, preferring clay or even mortar between bricks. Building materials that are similar to soil may serve as homes for these blue-banded bees in cities. Sometimes they even burrow into sandstone.

    Nests of blue-banded bees look like small holes in the aforementioned materials, usually with piles of the chosen material built around the holes as the bees dig them.

    Example of blue banded bee nest
    A female mining bee preparing her nest her nest. The entrance of the blue-banded bee nest is approximately 8 mm in diameter it is common for them to be at least 10 cm deep

    Use of mortar and mud bricks with a high concrete content can discourage blue-banded bees from nesting in housing materials. [8]

    Blue-banded bees dig tunnels a fraction larger than their bodies, so the entrance holes are relatively small, measuring approximately 8 millimeters in diameter.

    Despite the fact that each bee lives in its own nest, female blue-banded bees appear to prefer to nest in aggregates, which means they build their nests close together in a single area. It is possible that they will return to the same nesting site as the previous year to construct their new nest.

    A male blue-banded bee sleeps outside at night attaching itself to plants with its strong mandibles. Male blue-banded bees often sleep in groups hanging from stems and leaves.

    Blue-Banded Bees vs. Honey Bees

    Honey Bees Blue Banded Bees
    Appearance Orange or yellow stripes, no blue present. Blue stripes on the abdomen, ranging from bright metallic blue to almost brown or white with tinges of blue.
    Colony Size Up to 80,000 worker bees, hundreds of male drones, and a single queen. Does not live in colonies, nesting instead in individual tunnels or sleeping outside on flowers in the case of males.
    Behavior Important pollinator of many plants worldwide. Cannot perform buzz pollination. Essential pollinator of plants that require buzz pollination especially.
    Honey Production Produces large quantities of edible, nutritious honey. Does not produce honey.
    Stinging Aggressive, stings to protect honey and nest. Stings hurt a lot. Non-aggressive, does not sting unless threatened. Stings are relatively painless.
    Diet Nectar, pollen, and honey made from nectar. Collected from a variety of flowers. Nectar and pollen. Collected from many blue flowers as well as tomatoes, eggplants, and chili peppers.
    Reproduction A single queen provides all the eggs to create a colony. Male drone bees fertilize only the queen. Female bees dig their own nests and lay eggs in single brood cells, fertilized by male drone bees.

    What Do Blue-Banded Bees Eat?

    Amegilla cingulata, a species of blue-banded bee in Australia, collects and eats nectar mostly from blue flowers. In general, blue-banded bees feed on nectar and pollen from a wide variety of flowers, including tomatoes and eggplants.

    Blue-banded bees eat mainly nectar as adults, while larvae consume pollen and nectar as well as enzymes, similar to other digging bees.

    In order to feed their larvae, adult blue-banded bees build a small pile of nectar, pollen, and enzymes mixed together and then lay their eggs on top of it. This pile provides food for blue-banded bee eggs and larvae throughout their development, making them a relatively low maintenance species.

    The larvae of the blue-banded bee consume the food stored in their brood cells during the winter months, enabling them to survive. As the blue-banded bee larvae emerge the following spring, they immediately begin foraging for nectar and pollen to eat and feed their young.

    Do Blue-Banded Bees Sting?

    Despite the fact that blue-banded bees are capable of stinging, they only do so when they are themselves threatened by humans or other animals. In the event that they are afraid they will be trapped or squashed, they may sting, however, this is a very rare occurrence.

    In contrast to honey bees, solitary bees like the blue-banded bee do not have honey to protect. It is because of this lack of resources that blue-banded bees are almost always non-aggressive and rarely sting.

    Simply letting blue-banded bees continue about their business and not getting in their way will prevent a sting. Even if they sting, they are relatively painless in comparison to honeybees.

    Do Blue-Banded Bees Pollinate?

    The female blue-banded bees do pollinate, which occurs when insects fly between flowers and carry pollen to each flower they visit when foraging.

    To cross-pollinate, flowers rely on insects such as blue-banded bees to transfer pollen from the stamen (male reproductive part of a flower) to the stigma (female reproductive part of a flower). This helps them produce seeds.

    The blue-banded bee utilizes a pollination method known as buzz pollination, which involves the bee grabbing onto a flower and moving its wings vigorously, shaking the pollen grains out of it. Pollen is collected on the blue-banded bee’s hairs throughout its body, and in some species, on pollen baskets on its hind legs.

    blue banded bee collecting nectar and pollen from a purple flower
    Did you know blue-banded bees visit up to 1,200 flowers per day?

    Plants like tomatoes, eggplants, and chilli peppers require insects able to perform buzz pollination such as the blue-banded bee in order to pollinate.

    There is also a critical role played by blue-banded bees in pollinating tropical rainforest understories because these areas do not contain the large numbers of social bees commonly found in forest canopies. As they nest on the ground, blue-banded bees pollinate plants that grow close to the ground in rainforests.

    It is estimated that blue-banded bees visit up to 1,200 flowers per day, which means that they can pollinate a large number of flowers in a short period of time.[9]

    Do Blue-Banded Bees Make Honey?

    As solitary bees, blue-banded bees do not create colonies and therefore do not have the need to make honey to feed any colony. [10] 

    Adult blue-banded bees feed on nectar from flowers, while larvae consume a mixture of nectar, pollen, and enzymes secreted by adult bees. As a result, honey is not required as a food source for them.

    As opposed to social bees that have distinct caste systems in which workers, drones, and queens divide labor, solitary bees mate and feed their larvae on their own in individual nests. As a result, honey is not required as a food source for them.

    Male blue banded bees sleeping in a group, hanging from a wheat stem
    Male blue-banded bees are often observed sleeping in groups hanging from stems and leaves

    Reproduction & Lifecycle of Blue-Banded Bees

    Blue-banded bees that have overwintered emerge from their nests in the spring and begin mating. As soon as they have mated, female blue-banded bees will dig nests in which to lay their eggs.

    Blue-banded bee females build many oval-shaped cells which they line with a waterproof material they secrete.

    The female blue-banded bee fills the cells as they are formed with pollen and nectar, then lays an egg in them. As soon as the egg is laid, the cell is sealed with dirt.

    Upon laying blue-banded bee eggs in one nesting site, the female will go in search of another, leaving its larvae to develop alone in the brood cells.

    It is significant to note that blue-banded bee species differ in terms of the number of generations produced per season and the average lifespan of each bee. Blue-banded bees typically live for five to six weeks.

    As winter approaches, adult blue-banded bees die off. As larvae or adults, blue-banded bees overwinter in their brood cells, emerging again in spring to continue the cycle.


    [1] Zookeys [2] Wikipedia [3] Lucid Central [4] Wikipedia [5] wiki.nus [6] Wikipedia [7] Aussie Bee [8] & [9] [10] Pacific Horticulture


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