In Australia there are around 10,000 wasp species and 2000 bee species, according to the Australian museum and all have valuable roles in our ecosystems.
A few species can become pests in urban areas and pose a threat from stinging, such as the introduced European wasp which can be aggressive when a nest is disturbed. Bees are rarely a pest and are less likely to sting. The introduced honey bee can cause problems when queens disperse and set up new nests in homes and gardens.
Below are some of the common wasp and bee species that you can encounter in Australia:
European wasp and English wasp
Yellow jackets (social wasp)
European wasp and English wasp
(Family: Vespidae, eg Vespula vulgaris & Vespula germanica)
These are the two commonly found wasp species in NSW, Victoria, and Tasmania and the ones responsible for causing painful wasp stings.
Yellow and black body, marking varies according to species
Workers vary in size from 12 – 17mm
Life cycle and habits of the European wasp and English wasp
Only young queens survive over winter and emerge in the spring to start nest building and lay eggs
Workers (sterile females) emerge during early summer and take over nest building
Queen continues to lay eggs
New queens and males mate in early autumn
Nest dies during winter, including all the males and workers
Wasps do not swarm
Nest in old rodent burrows, hollow trees and bushes
Indoors, they prefer to build nests in sheltered locations with easy access to the outside, such as lofts, garages and wall cavities
Food preferences are insects early in the season when the brood is young and sweet foods later in summer as the brood matures and the workers become more of a pest to humans
Females sting readily and can sting repeatedly
A colony may have as many as 25,000 individual wasps.
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If you have a problem with a honey bee swarm, contact a local bee keeper or Environmental Health Department as they will be able to arrange for the swarm to be relocated.
Honey bee workers are around 12 mm in length, similar in size to the
European wasp Bees have a fury abdomen and are mostly black with grey stripes on the abdomen
The queen is larger than the workers and has a longer abdomen and small wings
The drone is also larger than the workers, has a fatter body, large eyes, large wings and no stinger
Life cycle and habits of the Honey bee
Bees have a typical insect lifecycle of egg, larva, pupa and adult. These are all present in a hive for most of the year
Worker bees are produced from fertilized eggs. They develop in around 21 days and live for about 45 days. Workers can lay unfertilised eggs if the colony becomes queenless
Queens are produced when female larva (which would become a worker otherwise) are fed a special food called royal jelly. Queens generally live 3-5 years
Soon after becoming an adult a queen leaves the hive to mate with drones, then returns and stays in the hive unless the colony needs to swarm
Drones, which are male, are produced when a queen lays unfertilised eggs. They take 24 days to develop.
Honey bees normally build hives in hollow trees, wall cavities or roof spaces.
They can also build nests hanging from tree branches
A colony size can often be greater than 30,000 bees Worker bees clean the hive, guard it, forage for nectar and pollen, build the honeycomb cells for the eggs and feed the brood
Periodically colonies swarm to new sites. They are not aggressive as there are no young to protect
Honey bees feed on plant nectar and pollen. They regurgitate honey and secrete beeswax through special glands in their abdomens
Honey bees also produce propolis which is made from plant resins mixed with beeswax and honey. This is used to seal cracks or holes in the hive and is also a disinfectant
Australian mortar bee (blue banded bee, masonry bee)
(Amegilla sp. 250+ species)
Life cycle and habits of the Australian mortar bee
Females build a solitary nest in a burrow and lay an egg at the end of the burrow with a pollen and nectar mixture for the larva to feed on
Adults die off in cold season
Young, immature bees stay in the nest until spring
Solitary bee, but multiple individuals can nest close to each other
Nest in soft sandstone cliffs, dried up river banks, soft mortar in buildings, earth banks under houses
Males ‘roost’ on plant stems at night, females in the burrows
Found throughout Australia except Tasmania and in neighbouring tropical countries to India
Not aggressive but can sting if handled roughly
Are good pollinators of some food crops and wild flowers, using a technique called buzz pollination in which the flower is grasped and vibrated by rapidly flapping wings
Limited foraging range of around 300m
(Xylocopa spp. — 8 species)
Carpenter bees are the largest native Australian bees at 15-24 mm long
Females have a glossy black abdomen and yellow fur on the thorax
Males are covered in yellow brown or olive fur including on the head
Life cycle and habits of the Carpenter bees
Tunnel into wood to lay eggs
Life cycle from egg – larva – pupa – adult takes approximately seven weeks
Larva is large and noisy
New adults emerge from the nest late August
Active — late-spring to mid-October
Nesting — they make tunnels in bare, untreated wood to lay their eggs
Old nests are used year after year
Location — around homes nests can be found in eaves, window trims, fascia boards, siding, decks and outdoor furniture
Feeding — feed on pollen and nectar; pollen is stored in the tunnels for over-wintering
Do not sting unless provoked