Thursday, April 11, 2013

Native Blue Banded Bees and other pollinator thoughts

What is this?

Of course it is a white cabbage butterfly, also known as pest, those buggers, damn things and worse, lol. Bet you wouldn't have guessed that this past summer it was almost my saviour. With few bees about because of the heat, most of the pollinating in my veggie patches were done by these butterflies. They are not all bad, and this year is the first that I have actually been glad to have them around.

This morning I was overjoyed to see a Native Australian Blue Banded Bee in my radish flowers. I haven't seen them among my veggies before. They are very cute, short and stumpy with white or light blue bands on their abdomen. Pity I didn't have my camera with me.

My point to this post is that there are many, many insects that pollinate flowers, not only honey bees. In fact many other insects do a far better job pollinating than honeybees. The Blue Banded Bees for example are buzz pollinators which means that they vibrate in the flowers to loosen and collect the pollen, which means that a flower only needs two or three visits by them to be fully pollinated rather than twenty or thirty visits by honeybees.

Imported honeybees are a terrible environmental problem in Australia and I hate them but I won't be talking about my antipathy towards them here, rather the  over-reaction to the honeybee disappearances that has everyone so worried.
I love honey, it is so useful in cooking and has plenty of health benefits but the world isn't going to collapse if it disappears. It would be sad but in reading news stories you would think that we are going to starve if honeybees disappear because crops would not be pollinated.

Sure they are useful for commercial crops simply because they are easy to handle and their sheer weight of numbers but with careful management and less chemicals most insect pollinated crops can be pollinated with other insects. Just sit by some flowers for a while and count how many insects visit the flowers. After all, how did Australian plants fare before we imported honeybees?

We have many native bees in Australia and some can be kept in hives and produce delicious honey, pity those are all tropical and ours down here are solitary so can't be used for honey.

Many people also don't realise that a huge number of our crops are not insect pollinated at all and will still be available if honeybees do disappear (which I actually doubt). Take our grains - (wheat, oats, corn etc), beets, and sugar cane which are wind pollinated, then there are self pollinated crops like legumes (beans, peas, peanuts etc) as well as members of the tomato family such as tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants.

Many of our native trees and shrubs are pollinated with bats, possums and nectar eating birds as well as native insects.

So you see, it would be more difficult for commercial crops, especially using current practices, but we won't starve if bees actually do disappear.

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