#PolliNationSA | Bee in the know with Connal Eardley

Connal.Eardley
Published on July 19th 2020
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During #PolliNationSA we’ll learn that there are many different types of bees in South Africa.
A screenshot of a cell phone on a table
There are many more pollinators than there are bees but I do not know much about them. Mostly we’ll learn about the less commonly known bees i.e. those other than honeybees that are the most common bees in South Africa, and around the world. They are called solitary bees.
A man sitting at a zoo
Bee taxonomist, Connal Eardley.

Connal Eardley

My childhood dream was to become a game ranger, but at university, I discovered that insects were just as interesting and could be studied more easily. On my laboratory windowsill, there was a banded digger bee nesting in a plant pot. It fascinated me. Then my first job was with my very farsighted Director, and honeybee expert, Dr Bing Wiese, who understood the importance of pollinators other than honeybees and that to understand pollination we needed a bee taxonomist.
Flattailedstembee collecting pollen from a daisy
Flat-tailed stem bee collecting pollen from a daisy. Photo by Peter Webb.
He put me on a track that I followed for the rest of my life. After eighteen years of wondering why I was studying bee taxonomy The Forgotten Pollinators, by Steve Buchmann and Gary Nabhan, was published, and pollinators were made a priority group in the Convention on Biological Diversity. I had 18 years of experience to capitalize on and my life’s work suddenly became relevant.
Bandeddiggerbee, a long-tongued bee taking a nectar meal
Banded Digger Bee. A long-tongued bee taking a nectar meal. Photo by Elize Eveleigh.

Learn more about bees with me

Watch this space and, hopefully, you’ll learn a lot about bees as I will be publishing a series of articles about bees in the next few months. As you get to know bees better, time in your garden, and a walk through the veld, will be much more enjoyable. To really enjoy bees you need to be able to recognise the different types of bees. First, the families, and there are six of them: Colletidae, Andrenidae, Halictidae, Melittidae, Megachilidae, Apidae.
There are 92 genera and over 1 000 species - but genera are enough because many species can only be identified under the microscope. Many of these species occur only in South Africa, and some only occur in a small part of the country - in fact, we live in a very special place for bees. It is not that difficult to learn the bee genera if you take them one step at a time. This could be a step in finding that your garden is an ecosystem and you’ll learn what helps to make it tick.
To be concise and try to keep your interest I have not always pointed out the exceptions - only the very interesting ones. Because it is painful to continually repeat ‘most’ before every example. Please note that most of the sweeping statements are flawed by exceptions. Discovering these will be part of the pleasure in studying bees in the years to come.
Goldenfurrowedbee, a short-tongued bee taking a nectar meal
Golden Furrowed Bee. A short-tongued bee taking a nectar meal. Photo by Elize Eveleigh.
Two books worth reading are:
1 | The Forgotten Pollinators, by S. Buchmann & G. Nabham (1996) Island Press, USA. 313pp. ISBN 1-55963-352-2/1-55963-353-0
2 | The Reason for Flowers, by S. Buchmann (2016) Scribner, USA, London, Toronto, Sydney, New Delhi, pp 341. ISBN 978-1-4767-5552-6/978-1-4767-5554-0 (ebook).

Share your bee pictures with us by using the hashtag #PolliNationSA!

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