Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bees of New Zealand

New Zealand introduction: Bombus ruderatus packing orange pollen! (see note at end)

Inspired by the whereabouts of my daughter, Caitlin, currently in Wellington, New Zealand doing an internship in marine biology, I decided to investigate what New Zealand offers in the way of bee fauna.  One book, Bees of The World, by Christopher O'Toole and Anthony Raw, suggests that islands typically do not have many species, and those that are found tend to be ones that nest in wood.  You can see how this might have happened - a log housing larvae or adult bees that haven't emerged, whose cells are waterproofed enough to survive an ocean voyage, arrives on a beach.  The bees suddenly find themselves in a new land.   At least 7 of New Zealand's 28 or so species of native bees are Hylaeus ssp. that nest in twigs or branches or reuse old holes bored by beetles.  Other native species, Lasioglossum ssp., of which there are 4 types,  nest in the ground as do the most numerous kind of natives, 18 species of Leioproctus bees.  Both the Hylaeus and Leioproctus bees belong to the Colletidae or so-called polyester bees which line their nesting cells with a cellophane-like compound that protects the egg, larval and pupal stages from moisture and the potential of fungus and bacterial infection.  That could be handy coating on a long sea voyage as well, a sort of insect foul-weather gear.  Native bees are known to pollinate the wild vegetation found on the islands, what is referred to as "the bush."

New Zealand also has 13 species of introduced bees, including the European honey bee, and 4 species of bumble bees which were imported to pollinate clover crops.  Two of the bumble bee species are now found across both the north and south islands, one of which is foraging in the above photo.  New Zealand has about 300,000 honey bee hives and the bees, as they are everywhere, are very important to agriculture.  However, the native species are also found in agricultural areas where kiwi fruit and apples are grown, for example, so they are thought to play a role in crop pollination as well.

If you are interested in reading more about bees and wasps which have many more representatives in the island nation,  this is a very informative site:

nb:  This is the only bee photograph I have in my collection from a trip to New Zealand in 2009.  It was made in a botanical garden on the north island.  From the internet search, I am making an educated guess at the species.  

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