SWIFFT Seminar notes 4 April 2019

Native Bees, Wasps and Ants
video conf 25 oct intro

SWIFFT  seminar notes are a summary of the  seminar and not intended to be a definitive record of presentations made and issues discussed.


This SWIFFT seminar was conducted via Zoom and supported through resources and technology provided by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victoria. SWIFFT wishes to thank speakers for their time and delivery of presentations. Thanks to Glen Johnson who acknowledged traditional owners and chaired the session from DELWP, Wodonga.

Key points summary

Take time to think about the small things in life and gain a better understanding of these insects, their role and conservation status.

overview intro

Introductory overview ‘Hymenoptera of Australia’

  • Order HYMENOPTERA (Bees, Wasps and Ants)  is one of 25 Orders of insects that occur in Australia
  • HYMENOPTERA – identified and named species (Wasps 10,000, Bees 1,700, Ants 1,300).
  • The Order HYMENOPTERA is the most important Order of insects to humans (35% of the food we produce and 75% of our food crops are reliant in some way on pollination).

Walker into bees

Native Australian Bees

  • Australia has about 10% of the world bee fauna.
  • It has the most primitive bee fauna in the world.
  • Many bees co-evolved with the Myrtaceae eucalypt plant family.
  • Australian bees are mainly solitary with some showing semi-social behaviour.
  • Through citizen science we are now learning more about the behaviours of our unique bee fauna.

View notes


wasp talk intro

Why you should love Wasps - Introduction to Australian parasitoid wasps

  • Most native wasps in Australia are non-social, parasitic wasps.
  • There are more types of parasitic wasps than any other group of animals.
  • Parasitic wasps can play an important role in the environment, particularly as biological control agents.
  • Citizen science is valuable in increasing knowledge about parasitic wasps through observations in backyards and in the bush.

View notes


ant intro Muller

Native Ants as Environmental Ambassadors

  • Native ants can be used as a means to raise community awareness and interest in the protection and management of remnant vegetation. 
  • There are a variety of ant mound styles which appear to be more than random soil excavation and disposal.
  • Slope and aspect influence mound placement. Solar access is important for some species.
  • Mound shape, placement and surface may aid climate control in the upper mound galleries.

View notes

wild pollinator count intro

Wild Pollinator Count

  • Interactions between pollinators and flowers are going on all the time but often overlooked.
  • People contribute to the count by spending 10 minutes looking at a flower of their choice and record the insects they see.
  • The last count had 600 participants from 182 postcodes in Australia.
  • Information from citizen science helps expand the database and knowledge about which plants certain pollinators may use.

List of speakers and topics




Introductory overview 'Hymenoptera of Australia’

Dr Ken Walker, Museums Victoria

Ken introduced the seminar topic focused on the Order HYMENOPTERA (Bees, Wasps and Ants) which is one of 25 Orders of insects that occur in Australia.  Hymenoptera are one of the ‘big four’ most specious orders;

  • Coleoptera (Beetles) – 25,000 species
  • Hymenoptera (Bees, Wasps & Ants) – 15,000)
  • Lepidoptera (moths & butterflies) – 11,000 species
  • Diptera (flies) – 9,000 species

Collectively these ‘big four’ orders make up about 70% of the known Australian fauna.

HYMENOPTERA – identified and named species (Wasps 10,000, Bees 1,700, Ants 1,300). Worldwide there are about 115,000 named species of Hymenoptera. Ken highlighted that in Australia only about 33% of insects have been named which means there is a long way to go to fully understand Australia’s invertebrate fauna.

Why have the ‘big four’ Orders Hymenoptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, Diptera been so successful?

Ken spoke about the fact that the ‘Big Four’ Orders all have a Holometabolistic Life cycle – Egg, Larva, Pupa and Adult. A major advantage is there is no competition for food between life stages e.g. caterpillars eats leaves whilst the adult only drinks nectar. Holometabolistic insects also have two stages of their life cycle which are non-feeding (eggs and pupa) which allows them to survive through winter with reduced predation. Ken pointed out that about 60% of insects have this life cycle strategy.

Hymenoptera characteristics
  • Two pairs of membranous (thin, often see-through) wings (flies only have one pair of wings).
  • Chewing mouthparts.
  • The females generally have an ovipositor which may be modified for sawing, piercing or
  • Stinging.
  • The most important characteristic which no other group of insets have got is the first segment of the abdomen is fused with the thorax – most with constricted waist.
Walker 1
The most important characteristic of Hymenoptera - the first segment of the abdomen is fused with the thorax.


Walker 2


Importance of Hymenoptera to humans

The Order Hymenoptera is the most important Order of insects to humans as:

  • Pollinators of wild and cultivated flowering plants (35% of the food we produce
  • and 75% of our food crops are reliant in some way on pollination).
  • As parasites of destructive insects (used as a control rather than spraying chemicals into the environment)
  • Makers of honey for food and antibiotics.
Symbiotic relationships

Ken highlighted the symbiotic relationships between certain species where the caterpillar life stage is dependent upon particular species of ants for their survival.

Walker 3


Insect Sociality

Insect sociality only occurs in Hymenoptera and termites. Only about 2% of all insect species are social but they make up over 90% of the world’s insect biomass. In a social colony, most females have to give up their reproductive ability and can’t pass on their own genes. The honeybee queen can live for 5-7 years but the workers only live for 6 weeks.

Pest and medical species

The European Wasp is considered an introduced pest species. The native Jack Jumper Ant can inflict medical issues in about 20 % of humans.

Key points from questions

  • Mantoides are an effective insect predator but are very few in numbers so have no impact in reducing insect populations.
  • The Almond crop has a very limited window of about 3 weeks to achieve 100% pollination which has meant 4.2 billion bees are seasonally moved to into Australian Almond growing areas.

Native Australian Bees

Dr Ken Walker, Museums Victoria

Ken introduced the topic by saying bees evolved from wasps at least 120 million years ago. About 160 million years ago the flowering plants (Angiosperms) evolved and a group of wasps became vegans – we call them bees.

Differences between wasps and bees

Most Wasps provide their larvae with protein from animal tissue whereas Bees provide their larvae with protein from pollen.

Walker bees 01
Bees provide their larvae with protein from pollen (left). Most Wasps provide their larvae with protein from animal tissue (right). 


Walker bees 1
Bees have branched hairs which they use to carry pollen. Bees also developed grooming behaviours which are used to move pollen from the front legs to the end of their body.


Australian bee fauna

Ken explained, Australia has approximately 1,700 native bee species and the most unique bee fauna of any continent.

The European Honeybee is not native to Australia, it was introduced in 1822 for food and wax production.

Native bees are divided into 5 Families but the most important feature is they are either Long-tongue bees (300 species) or Short-tongue bees (1,400 species).

Walker bees 2 long tongue bee

Blue-banded Bee (right)


Walker bees 3 short tongue bees
Australia has a greater number of Short-tongue bees.


Short-tongue bees have been very successful in Australia due to their adaption to feed on the nectar from Myrtaceae (Eucalypts, gums and ash trees) which offers nectar in a broad, shallow cup from which short-tongue bees can lap up the nectar. There is also great diversity in the techniques used to access nectar from different flowers. It is thought short-tongued bees co-evolved with the evolution of Australian Myrtaceae which is widely distributed across Australia. All other continents have an abundance of Long-tongue bees.

Where do bees carry their pollen loads?

Ken spoke the diversity in the way different species carry pollen. The Blue-banded Bee uses its hind legs. The Homalictus bees use hairy areas under the abdomen. The social honeybees Apismellifera & sugarbag bees Tetragonulacarbonaria use a hairless notch on the mid leg to hold pollen in a pollen basket. The Euryglossinae and Hylaeinaebees do not have pollen carrying hairs on their bodies but carry pollen internally.

Walker bees 4
The Blue-banded Bee uses its hind legs to carry pollen.
Walker bees 5 pollen carrying
Homalictus bees carry pollen on hairy areas under the abdomen.


Bee Cleptoparasites

Ken spoke about bees with no pollen carrying areas e.g. the White Cuckoo bee which waits for the Blue-banded Bee to come out of the ground, they enter and kill the larvae and lay their own eggs on the pollen ball created by the Blue-banded Bee.

Bee bubbling – nectar concentration

When bees take up nectar, they need to reduce the amount of water down to about 30% to concentrate the sugars. Bees reduce the water in the nectar by using evaporation through continually producing bubbles to increase the surface area. Ken encourages people to have a look for bees sitting in flowering eucalypts during the summer to see bees preforming this role which takes about 30 minutes.

Walker bees 7 bubbling


Nesting & Sociality

About 70% of bee species nest below ground and 30% above ground.

Ken spoke about two groups of solitary bees which use different nesting techniques;

  • Leaf cutter bees - use leaves or petals to build a brood cell in underground hollows.
  • Resin bees – take resin from where trees are wounded, they make their nest above ground in resin pots.

Semi-social halictidbees – these bees have communal nesting sites underground where 10-15 females share the nest entrance. While the females are out foraging one female stays back to protect the others pollen brood cells and larvae from predators and parasites.

During the late afternoon all the females move to the underground nest for the night, but males all roost together on twigs and branches close to the underground nests.

Walker bees 9 roosting male bees

Male Halictidbees bees all roost together on twigs and branches close to the underground nests.


Creating a bee hotel

Ken spoke about the benefits of having native bees in the garden. Bee hotels can be created using bamboo. They attract the solitary nesting bees such as the Leaf cutter bee and types of Resin bees.

Walker bees 10 bee hotel



Citizen science


Key points from questions

  • The Varroamite is one of the main causes of Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder. They occur in every continent except Antarctica and Australia. It is estimated when Varroa reaches Australia we could lose up to 80% of our honeybee stocks.
  • Ken spoke about the impacts of Varroamite being greatest in the feral populations. In Australia 25% of European Honeybees managed and 75% are feral.
  • New Zealand lost all feral hives when Varroamite arrived.
  • Varroamite does not affect Native Bees.
  • At present there are 1,600 managed honeybee hives around airports and ports which are monitored every two weeks to detect any overseas bees carrying Varroamite. The idea being any imported bees carrying Varroamite will mix with the sentinel hives and can therefore be detected.
  • About 75% of pollination in Australia is delivered by feral hives.
  • About 90% of pollination is done by invertebrates, mainly by bees but also butterflies and beetles. Vertebrate fauna e.g. birds also contribute to pollination.
  • Studies over many years have not found any impacts on native bees from European Honeybees. The main impacts on native fauna occur where honey bees occupy hollows in trees which could be otherwise used as nesting sites.
  • Bare earth is necessary to provide nesting sites for many species of native bees. Bee hotels can be used as well to increase the diversity of native bees and the number of pollinators in the area.
  • A select group of moths contributes to nocturnal pollination.
  • Bee hotels work in Victoria.

Contact: Ken Dr Ken Walker, Museums Victoria via Bowerbird

Why you should love Wasps: Introduction to Australian parasitoid wasps

Dr Erinn Fagan-Jeffries, University of Adelaide

Erinn discussed her field work which involves collecting wasps using a specially designed wasp trap. The wasps are stored in ethanol to preserve their DNA which is used to study their relationships and species diversity.

The most common wasp to people is the introduced European Wasp which is a social wasp and considered a pest species.

Most native wasps in Australia are non-social, parasitic wasps. Erinn highlighted there are more types of parasitic wasps than any other group of animals, even exceeding the number of species of beetles by two or three times.

What is a Parasite?  - something that needs to feed of another living thing to survive.

Waht is a Parasitoid? - a parasite that will kill the host to complete its life cycle.


Erin spoke about the wasp family tree and how they are related to each other through time and evolution.  Wasps evolved to become parasites followed by three linages of speciality; Bees, European Wasps and Social Wasps. Most wasps are parasitic wasps.

More details: Evolutionary History of Hymenoptera – Peters et al. 2017

Examples of wasp Famlies

Sub-order Symphyta – thickened joint between the thorax and abdomen, this group also includes spitfires, named because of the irritation caused from the larvae which are often found on eucalyptus trees.

Wasps talk 1


Eucharitidae (Ant parasitoids) are a very small, beautiful wasp which lay their eggs on leaves. When the wasp larvae hatch out, they attach themselves to passing ants where they are transported to the ant nest and feed on ant larvae until they pupate into an adult wasp.

It is one of the few groups which manage to feed off ant larvae,  ants tend to be very effective in deterring parasites.

wasp talk 2



Gasteruptiiduae  (Bee parasitoids) these wasps parasitise native bees, they are small and distinctive due to their long thin shape. Erinn said there is on-going research to determine which species of wasp parasitise which species of native bees.

wasp talk 3


Pompilidae (Spider wasps) parasitise spiders so that when wasp larvae hatch out they have the spider to feed on. Different species of wasps parasitise their preferred species of spiders.

wasp talk 4


Sphecidae (Spider parasites) with obvious thin waste, also known as Mud Dauber wasps which are often seen building mud nests on the side of walls where they put their parasite spider in, lay their eggs and seal it up.

Chrysididae (Cuckoo wasps) are Cleptoparasites, these wasps lay their eggs inside a bee nest or another wasp nest. When the wasp larvae hatch out and eat the food source of the host species.

wasp talk 5


Microgastrinae (Lepidopteran parasites which attack caterpillars) These wasps are Endoparasitoids. The female wasp lays its eggs inside the host of a young caterpillar where they feed and develop until they pupate and burst out as an adult wasp. Erinn pointed out that once the caterpillar is parasitised the wasp larvae can even change the behaviour of the caterpillar to influence what it feeds on to benefit the wasp larvae. Another interesting point is when the wasp injects its eggs into the caterpillar it also injects a virus which suppresses the immune system of the caterpillar from attacking the wasp larvae.

wasp talk 6


Velvet Ants are a type of wasp in which the females are wingless with a fluffy appearance. They have one of the more painful stings of native wasps.

Hyperparasites - exist where the wasp larvae parasitising on a caterpillar are themselves being parasitised by another wasp.

Wasp diversity

It is estimated there are about 40,000 species of Microgastrinae wasps.

In Australia about 100 species are described in 21 Genera. Erinn spoke about her research which involved collecting wasps and using bar coding gene techniques she was able to sequence the genes from 600 hundred wasps to determine species diversity and relationships to each other. From the 600 wasps analysed 236 species were found. There is an enormous amount of  work still to be done through further collections, analysis and naming.

Biocontrol agents

Erinn spoke about the positive role of parasitic wasps in the environment, particularly as biological control agents. Because parasitic wasps are host specific, they will normally parasitise one or two host species. Erinn used the example of a species of parasitic wasp that was used to control the Potato Moth from causing major damage to the potato industry.

Citizen Science

Erinn spoke about how people can contribute to increasing knowledge about parasitic wasps through their own observations in backyards and in the bush. See http://thecaterpillarconundrum.org/

Erinn is extending the Citizen Science work in 2019 through involvement with schools and community groups who can run malaise traps over the Spring/Summer in local bushland areas.

Contact: Errin Fagan-Jeffries 

Key points from Questions

  • Parasitic wasps have been used as control agents in agriculture a number of times in Australia.

Ants as environmental ambassadors

Peter Muller – Ants are everywhere

Peter provided an overview of his project which includes raising awareness about native ants and their habitat. He felt common bushland ant are often overlooked when thinking about remnant vegetation and the fauna they support.

Muller 01

Myrmecia madibularis


Remnant vegetation, ants and community awareness

Small reserves and remnant vegetation are important refuges, this could be in the form of roadsides or semi-urban parklands. These areas can support viable populations of native ants either on a temporary or permanent basis depending on the quality of the habitat.

Muller 1
Native ants can be found in remnant vegetation, roadsides and semi-urban parklands.


Peter discussed the need for managers of remnant vegetation to take account of environmental values, particularly roadside which can be an environmental ark for species in degraded landscapes. The more we can learn about the values contained these areas of remnant vegetation the more choice for better informed management will follow. 

Project activities

Peter’s project is formed around the basis of using native ants as a means to raise community awareness and interest in the protection and management of remnant vegetation. He also seeks to determine if the common bushland ant mounds/entrances are reliably species distinctive so that they can be used as a guide to the presence of ant species.

  • Observations in the field and developing data collecting techniques.
  • Up-skilling for the task, using confident identification is critical. Also identify what the ant is doing in the landscape.
  • Pilot study focusing on the Bull Ant Myrmecia sp. to develop a field guide and education material, then move on to include common bushland ants.
Distinctive ant mound styles
Muller 2
Myrmecia pyriformis (top left) one of the more common larger species. Rhytidoponera metellica (top right) noticeable metallic sheen on the ant. Aphaenogaster loniceps (bottom right) a very small ant. Camponotus molossus (bottom right) a common ant across a variety of habitats.


Muller 3
Camponotus intrepidus doesn’t build a mound as such but takes its soil spoil to form a type of fan on one side of the hole.


The need for confident identification

Peter spoke about the need for accurate identification. He used the example of Myrmecia nigriceps which is a fairly common ant but very similar to Myrmecia Sp. 17 which is a  Listed threatened species. Another example is the Jack Jumper Myrmecia pilosua ant which has been split into 7 species, 5 of which are in Victoria.

Habitat observations

Peter is looking at site characteristics, macro and micro habitats, evaluating ant distribution and variation. Mound placement is also taken into account, observing slope and aspect. Solar access and vegetation associations also form part of build knowledge about the various ant species and understanding why the ant is living where it is.

By building a picture of all the parameters it is hoped to be able to better predict where different species of ants are likely to occur.

Mound styles and inhabitants

The type of things Peter is looking out for when searching for ants;

  • Visual indication of ants presences
  • Result of nest galleries, excavations, tunnels
  • Variations in mound styles/profiles and size; and if they are species specific
  • Variety of coverings and if they are species specific
Muller 4
Large gravel mound of the meat ant Iridomyrmex purpures


Using Myrmecia genus as a pilot

Peter explained the reasons behind choosing this genus is there are only about 16 species to look at. They are generally the larger ants in Victoria and easier to study. They also have large, visible and distinctive mounds.

Muller 5
Myrmecia pyriformis (Black-book Bull Ant) nest is often associated with fallen timber.


Muller 5a
Myrmecia nigriscapa (Bull ant) is timid with a cryptic nest, just a hole in the ground.


Muller 6
Myrmecia pisolula (Jack Jumper bull-ant) is one of the smaller ants with attitude, it jumps or hops when the nest is disturbed. They often have stone fragments, gum nuts or other objects incorporated into the nest mound.



There are a variety of ant mound styles. The ant mound appears to be more than random soil excavation and disposal.

Slope and aspect influence mound placement. Solar access is important for some species.

Mound shape, placement and surface may aid climate control in the upper mound galleries.

Key points from questions
  • Meat ants are capable of killing cane toads when the toads are emerging from tadpole phase.


Internet resources

CSIRO Ants on-line

Australian Museum, Museums Victoria

Atlas of Living Australia

Ant wiki

Ant web Australia

Alex Wild ‘The diversity of insects’



Wild Pollinator Count

Karen Retra - co-founder of the Wild Pollinator Count

Karen introduced her talk by encouraging people to spend a short amount of time in a space they are familiar with to observe and record pollination taking place. Interactions between pollinators and flowers are going on all the time but often overlooked. You don’t even have to go to go out of your own back yard to observe these amazing interactions.

Retra 1 intro
The project team

The team consists of Dr Manu Saunders - University of New England, Karen Retra – Albury and Dr Tobias Smith - University of Queensland, Bee Aware Brisbane. The project is primarily volunteer run.

How the project works

Karen emphasised the project is aimed at making it as easy as possible to get people involved, you don’t need to be an expert to observe what is going on around you.

Main priorities – awareness and engagement.

People contribute by spending 10 minutes looking at a flower of their choice and record the insects they see. The recorded observations are taken as simple categories to make it easy given there are potentially thousands of insect species involved. E.g. Bees – Honeybee, Blue-banded Bee, Other bee; Wasps – European Wasps, other wasps.

Observers are supported by a simple guide to common pollinator insects. Observers also record what plant the observations were made on. This information helps expand the database and knowledge about which plants certain pollinators may use.

Observers enter data via a web site. You can do as many counts as you wish. Its also a great activity for individuals, families, groups to look at nature and share their observations.

Organised counts lasting a week are conducted twice a year (April and November). The organised counts started in November 2014 mainly in the Albury Wodonga region with 33 participants. The last count in November 2018 had 600 participants from 182 postcodes in Australia.

Retra 2a


Results snapshot

Karen felt one of the positives coming out of the project is that people take the time to stop and look and are amazed at what they see. It also encourages people to submit images if they wish.

Retra 3 results


Next steps

Publishing results and data; this involves publishing information collected from the counts as well as information concerning engagement and citizen science. Karen spoke about the flow on effects of having people engage in a simple activity,a starting point which can lead them into delving into more information about biodiversity and pollinators.

Tecnology; development of apps. and identification assistance technology.

Advanced observers; building more advanced options for people willing to engage further into pollinator citizen science.

The next count

14 – 21 April 2019 wildpollinatorcount.com or #OzPollinators

Contact: Karen Retra  or @karenretra

Key points from questions
  • A field guide has been produced as part of the project.

Speaker summaries

View notes from previous SWIFFT Seminars







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