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Lithurgus atratiformis (Family Megachilidae)

Distribution:

Coastal plains of Queensland and New South Wales. (QLD, NSW).

Features:

Males and females are black, with narrow bands of white hair on each segment of the metasoma. Females are about 11 mm long. The face protrudes slightly between the antennae, and the mandibles have 3 large, equally spaced teeth. The tip of the metasoma has dense reddish brown hair, almost covering a small, slightly flattened spine. The scopa is pale. Males are about 9mm long and the tip of the metasoma has a small spine.

Ecology/Way of Life:

Both males and females are fast-flying and difficult to see until they land on flowers or the nest site.

Flowers visited: They forage on plants with large pollen grains; the scopa (pollen brush) of females is sparse compared to other megachilid bees. Species visited include Ipomea, native Hibiscus, including H. diversifolius and H. heterophyllus, the cotton tree H. tiliaceus, and commercial cotton. These bees are active in southern Queensland from October to May.

Nesting: in soft, dry or decaying wood. In coastal wallum they often nest in dead Banksia. Females excavate branching blind tunnels, kicking most of the sawdust out through the entrance. The tunnels are not lined. They are divided into a linear series of cells by sawdust partitions. Each cell is provisioned with pollen paste and contains a single egg. The last cell is closed by a thick layer of wood fragments, but the tunnel mouth is not sealed.

The author kept a section of Banksia trunk with nesting L. atratiformis for 2 years. The bees foraged on a cotton tree and H. heterophyllus in the garden. Males flew around the nest and the food plants. Externally the Banksia trunk was stained with pollen and caked with sawdust, internally it was honeycombed.

They have been recorded nesting in rotting chamfer boards, old fence posts and a large wooden electrical cable reel.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

In coastal towns in Queensland and New South Wales the extensive use of cotton trees and Banksias in landscaping provides food and nest sites, and the bees are quite common. The clearing of native vegetation for coastal and near-coastal development has reduced natural breeding sites.

Other Comments:

This species belongs to the bee family Megachilidae. Megachilid bees are solitary, each female builds and provisions her own nests, there is no cooperation with other females. Females transport pollen in a scopa (a patch of hairs modified to carry pollen) on the underside of the metasoma, this feature is unique to megachilids. A few parasitic megachilids lay their eggs in other bees' nests.

In Australia megachilids can be divided into three groups based on their nesting habits: resin bees, leafcutter bees and wood-boring bees.

Further Reading:

Houston T.F. (1971). Notes on the biology of a lithurgine bee (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae) in Queensland. Journal of the Australian Entomological Society 10: pp31 – 36.

Michener, C.D. (2000) Bees of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. 914pp.

Acknowledgments:

Text and photograph by Judith King.

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