The Amazing Aussie Bee Amegilla (Asarapoda) dawsoni

Amegilla (Asarapoda) dawsoni, known by the common name of Dawson’s Bee, or Dawson’s Burrowing Bee, is one of the most incredible bee species in the world! This robust, large native bee hails from the Land Down Under - Australia. Like many creatures in Australia, this bee is quirky and charismatic. I had the pleasure of spending days observing and studying this fascinating bee species in August last year, which was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Witnessing the emergence, mating, fighting, foraging and nesting activities is truly a sight to bee-hold. Standing in the rugged outback on a barren claypan, with large golden male bees zipping about me in pursuit of virgin females; pairs in copula scurrying across the claypan; jousts between males rolling about in the red dirt; and the sight of silvery females popping in and out of little clay turrets, is enthralling.

Amegilla dawsoni mating

Dawson's bee occurs in North-Western Australia, and is known to be active only for a few months from late July to early September. Its activity is timed with the ephemeral rainfall in the Australian arid zone, which brings flushes of plants to bloom, including the bee’s foraging plants. The bees nest in claypans, including not just claypans in nature reserves, but on clay roads or claypans in a Pistol Range! Like the majority of native bees, and unlike the European honeybee Apis mellifera, A. dawsoni is a solitary species: each female builds her own nest, and forages to provision her offspring with nectar and pollen. Males play no role in parental care, but unlike the European honeybee, do not succumb to suicidal sex and continue to live after mating.

The nests of Dawson’s Bees are similar to many of its close relatives in the genus Amegilla, such as the blue banded bees and teddy bear bees. These are all solitary bees, but they nest gregariously, and up to 10,000 individuals may nest at the same site. An active nesting ground will be pock-marked with little nesting burrows.

The females dig through the hard-packed soil of the claypan, excavating nests up to 35 cm deep, using nectar to help moisten the clay. Burrows towards the end of completion have little cylindrical turrets up to 4 cm high constructed from the excavated soil and which prevent newly excavated soil from falling back in.

At the base of the main shaft, females excavate one to several urn-shaped brood cells, which they line with a waxy secretion. Brood cells are filled with food for the offspring – a watery mixture of nectar and pollen – then an egg is laid on top of the provisions, and the cell sealed with a circular mud cap. This is the end of parental duties; the grub-like larva hatches, feeds on the food provisions, and sheds its skin (moults) several times before pupating, metamorphosing and emerging as an adult bee the next year. The mature larvae become dormant for most of the year, timing their emergence for the following spring.

Newly 'hatched' adults must gnaw through the cell cap and chew their way up out of the nesting burrow. Males emerge prior to females (on average 15 days earlier) and avidly patrol the nesting ground, which then becomes the emergence and breeding ground. Males will often guard the entrance of emergence tunnels, waiting to pounce on a female as soon as she emerges. The female then scuttles across the claypan, the male piggy-backing on her, to a spot in the vegetation at the edge of the claypan where they will mate.

Male waiting for virgin female to emerge from her burrow

Like most bees, Dawson's bee is sexually dimorphic, which means the males and females can readily be distinguished. As in many other insects, but unlike most mammals, females are larger than the males. The females have a beautiful silvery furry thorax and head, and a burgundy abdomen, while males have a golden furry thorax and copper abdomen.

Dawson's bee is one of the largest bee species in Australia, dwarfing the introduced European honeybee, and is only exceeded in si