Waxing lyrical on bees

Steve Maginnity, of Lennox Head, and his native bees.
Steve Maginnity, of Lennox Head, and his native bees. David Nielsen

THERE is a renewed force of insect pollinators in our local macadamia orchards.

And you will be happy to know the native troops are winning a war against a difficult pest.

Australian native bees are the secret.

Alstonville High School agriculture and science teacher Steve Maginnity learnt about native bees when he went to a beekeeping course two years ago.

Since then he has fallen in love with the tiny four-winged wonders.

“They are amazing creatures and their importance is increasing every day,” Mr Maginnity said.

There are more than 1500 species of native bees, none of which is aggressive. Only 14 species live in colonies.

The bees, unlike the European bee, are less susceptible to hive destruction by the small hive beetle, which has been threatening bee populations since its introduction into Australia in about 2000.

According to Mr Maginnity, native bees fight off the beetle by filling their mouths with wax which they then dab on to the backs of thepredator. The effect is the beetle becomes mummified and dies.

The bees are capable of pollinating many tropical and subtropical plants including macadamias, blueberries, rockmelons, watermelons and strawberries.

As feral colonies of European bees decline, due to the beetle, farmers are turning more and more to the native bee for pollination.

Australian Macadamia Society chief executive Jolyon Burnett said many macadamia growers were enthusiastic about the potential ofnative bees.

“As we try to move tobecoming more sustainable we are encouraging native insects in the orchard,” Mr Burnett said.

Mr Maginnity said using native bees in macadamia farms could increase kernel size by up to 10 per cent.

Unfortunately, a colony of native bees produces only one to one-and-a-half litres of honey each year, compared with European bees which produce about 50 to 70 litres.

However, the honey has a eucalyptus flavour and is considered a delicacy.

Mr Maginnity is developing an educational program for schools about native bees.


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