Magnetic Island is very beautiful and is only twenty minutes by ferry from Townsville but we only get over there a couple of times per year. Here are some souvenirs, with minimal commentary, from our visit last weekend.
Two walking tracks lead up from the Eastern end of Picnic St, Picnic Bay – one towards the Recreation Camp and the other, new us, to a lookout on top of Hawkings Point.
We’ve had 70 – 100 mm of rain in the last couple of days and are nearly ready to say that the Wet has hit Townsville at last. December only brought us 41 mm and our gardens – to say nothing of Castle Hill and the Common – were getting desperate.
The insects have responded to the moisture immediately. I have seen two flights of winged termites, setting off to find mates and establish new colonies, and a walk around the garden this morning revealed a swarm of native bees as well as a variety of other little wildlife.
The bees (Tetragonula species) were flying in a loose swarm near a couple of pot plants for most of the day. Dozens were in the air at any one time, with smaller numbers resting (like the one above) for a while and then taking off again.
Sitting down in the middle of the swarm, as I did to take the photo, felt a bit weird just because we’re so used to the idea that bees sting and should be avoided. These bees don’t sting – can’t sting, in fact – and I was perfectly safe. They didn’t even bump into me. Some of them did, however, blunder into the web of a Silver Orb-weaver just above them and paid the price.
Elsewhere in the garden I saw a beautiful mantis nymph, translucent against the underside of a sunlit leaf, a pretty little green spider in its daytime retreat on a hibiscus leaf (I had to poke it out with a twig to take photos) and a fat green hawk-moth caterpillar happily chomping through the leaves of my sweet potatoes. Oh, and ants and butterflies and grasshoppers … the whole world comes to life with a good fall of rain. Less happily, that means we are soon going to see lots more mosquitoes.
Australia’s largest bee is the Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa species. Females are black-and-gold monsters which are sometimes thought of as ‘Bumblebees’, although that name really belongs to an introduced species which has made itself at home in our southern states.
Carpenter Bees are solitary, like many other native bees, and they make nests by hollowing out chambers in soft wood. I have known them to use dead branches of our frangipani trees and, more recently, a dead branch of a small native tree (a ti-tree, if I remember correctly, but it has been dead for so long that I’m no longer sure). The nest holes are quite distinctive: a round hole the size of the tip of my little finger, as neat as anything I could do with a drill. The female provisions the cell with pollen as food for her offspring.
There’s a lot more about these bees at aussiebee.com, with photos which I must say are far better than mine. The best shot of all is this one showing buzz pollination in action. Amazing!
To most people a bee is the common honey bee which Europeans domesticated centuries ago and brought with them to Australia, but there are many kinds of native bees here.
Most are solitary but some forms colonies (hives or nests, usually in tree hollows) like the European bee, and make honey to feed their young. Aboriginal people have raided their nests since the Dreamtime and European settlers in northern Australia followed suit – my wife grew up on a sheep property near Hughenden and recalls her father cutting nests from their trees, bringing them home and straining out the honey by hanging it in a muslin bag.
These days some people are keeping hives of native bees the same way they would keep European bees – ‘Bob the Bee Man‘, for instance (and there is lots of how-to info at Aussie Bee). One of our local primary schools, Hermit Park SS, has even kept some as an environmental studies project.
The bees in question are variously called ‘Native bees’ (because they are), ‘Stingless bees’ (because they are, but they will bite instead if threatened) or ‘Sweat bees’ (because they will land on bare skin to drink your sweat). The one in my photos here is either Trigona carbonaria or its close relation Trigona hockingsi. They are much smaller than European bees – only about 4 mm long, around the size of an ordinary house fly.
P.S. I said ‘many’ kinds of native bees – then I found this site and discovered just how many: 2000 species and counting!