Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The Importance of Bees and Wasps.

The insect family Hymenoptera is very important. There are many interesting and beneficial, yet lesser known, relatives of the commonly seen honey bees and paper wasps.

Australia has many native bees. Many of these are solitary bees, but some live in groups and produce small amounts of honey.

As an aside: Honey bees are used in Australia for honey production, but when swarms get away and become feral they are a nuisance and take the homes of parrots and other native fauna. For instance, cockatoos need certain sized holes in trees to live in. Feral bees also use these holes, and being more aggresive they are able to take nesting holes in trees, reducing much-needed homes for the birds.

Hoverflies are easily seen in the garden if you stand and watch near flowers for hovering insects that seem to hang in mid-air near flowers. These small fly relatives have larvae that eat small garden pests, such as aphids.
Adult hoverflies rely on pollen and nectar to live so it is a good idea to include plants that have many small flowers. These can include marigolds, allyaum and umbelliferous plants such as dill, fennel and queen Anne's Lace.

Australia doesn't have hornets, but we do have some very large wasps. These are spider-wasps, and are upto 4 cm long.
Their job is to hunt down wolf and huntsmen spiders, which they drag back to their burrows in the soil to feed their young.

At the other end of the size scale there are tiny parasitoid wasps, which lay their eggs inside the eggs of other insects. Some are small enough to lay their eggs inside the eggs of aphids.

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