Elevated areas where mounds of termites (Coptotermes lacteus) and bitter pea flowers (Daviesia sp.) occur together. (SA, VIC, ACT, NSW, QLD)
Like other bees in the family Colletidae, Leioproctus nigrofulvus has a short, broad tongue, suited to visiting shallow flowers.
Males and females are mostly similar but as adults they differ slightly. The primary features that distinguish adult males from females are that the males do not have pollen collecting apparatus on the hind legs and generally are thinner.
Females are about 12 mm long, the integument is brownish-black with moderately dense, whitish to brown hair on the body and yellowish hair on the head. The abdomen has only very short hair on the top surface except at the very end, where there is a very dense band of dense, black hair. At the very end there is a flat plate (pygidial plate) which is thought to play some role in the application of the lining of the larval cells. On the hind legs there is a dense covering of branched hair (scopa) that is packed with pollen when carrying from flowers to the larval nest/cells, as well there is a comb which used in grooming the pollen off the body assisting it into the scopa.
Males are about 9 mm long, the hair on the body is golden, they have no scopa, nor pygidial plate. Otherwise they are similar to females.
The egg is white, smooth, about 2mm wide, 5mm long and curved. The larvae are white, grub-like, with spiracles (breathing organs) along both sides, and a well defined head that is lightly coloured but no legs . The larvae have no eyes, jaws that are long and curved with small projections and small remnant antennae. The pupae are pale and look like an adult with only wing buds.
Ecology/Way of Life:
Leioproctus nigrofulvus is a solitary bee that spends most of its life as a pupa. Adults feed only on bitter pea flowers (Daviesia species). They nest in the walls of mounds built by the termite Coptotermes lacteus and do not venture into the termites' living quarters or the termites would very quickly kill them. Mounds are up to a metre high with outer walls around 30 cm thick.
The bees only exist as flying adults for a brief period of the year — they emerge from their nests in late August. The males appear first and die in late October, whereas the females continue until late December. The first males emerge when the Daviesias begin to flower and the last females are around until the end of the flowering season.
The termites apparently do not gain any advantage by having the bees nesting in the walls of the mounds. It seems that the bees gain a nursery where the temperature is regulated throughout the year to around 30°, despite some mounds being under snow in winter in the alpine areas of the Australian Capital Territory.
The bees tunnel into the sides of the termite mounds. Apparently some reuse old bee tunnels. At the end of the tunnel they make a slightly expanded cell, then line the cells with a ‘cellophane’- like material that is produced by a gland of the female bee; a large mass of bee bread is placed in the cell (a soft mixture of pollen and nectar) with an egg laid on top of the bee bread then the cell is closed with a spiral plug of soil. A section of the tunnel is backfilled then another cell is created, until there are about ten or so in a row. The tunnels seem to run parallel to the internal workings of the termite mounds. Several hundred bees will nest together in an aggregated nest site.
A fungal disease, Ascosphera sp occurs in Leioproctus nigrofulvus nests in the Australian Capital Territory; a very closely related fungus occurs in Leioproctus nests in New Zealand.
Interaction with Humans/Threats:
Loss of habitat is the greatest threat. The bees live in relatively nondescript scrub that contains termite mounds.
Cockerell named the species in 1914, placing it in the genus Paracolletes. In 1962 Michener moved it to the genus Leioproctus. The name is based on the Greek leios = smooth and proktos = anus, rectum, tail; and the Latin: niger = black, dark and fulvus = tawny, reddish-yellow.
Michener, C.D. (2000). The Bees of the World. John Hopkins University Press. 913 pp.
Text and images copyright Glynn Maynard. Map provided by ABRS.
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