The southern hemisphere is home to an attractive species of bee known as the blue banded bee. The bee uses a special technique, called buzz pollination, to pollinate flowers and flowering tomato plants. Blue banded bees start their lives in complex tunnel systems built deep inside soft sandstone or clay.
The blue banded bee looks similar to a honeybee, although its stripes are metallic blue rather than yellow. The male bee has five colored stripes, while the female has four, which look slightly faded in comparison to the male's bright bands of color. The bee uses his proboscis, a long tube-like structure that acts as a tongue, to lap up nectar and water. Blue banded bees are about a third to half an inch in length, and have six legs, as well as eyes with multiple lenses that help them spot flowers ready for pollination.
The blue banded bee lives in East Timor, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Australia, with the exception of Tasmania. The bee lives in woodlands, forests and areas around cities where flowers grow. Blue banded bees tend to build nests close to other bees, although each mature female bee builds her own nest. Females look for soft or crumbly surfaces when choosing a site for a home and prefer to nest in mud bricks, old mortar, sandstone and clay. Females lay their eggs in the nest, but males stay outside and spend their nights in nearby plants or other vegetation.
A female bee builds an elaborate maze of tunnels under the ground, although from the surface only one small hole might be visible. She lays eggs in cells and leaves a supply of pollen and nectar in each cell. When the blue banded bee larva hatches from its egg, it feeds on the food left by the female. Adult bees die when temperatures drop, but the eggs remain safe underground. They won’t hatch until spring arrives.
The blue banded bee is a buzz pollinator, meaning it shakes its flight muscles to free pollen from flowers. Buzz pollinators are needed to obtain pollen from flowers, such as tomato flowers, that store the pollen in a capsule. When the blue banded bee shakes the flower, the capsule opens, coating the bee in pollen. The bee uses the pollen when she builds her nest, but some of it drops off when she visits the next flower and helps pollinate that flower.
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