Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps

Higher Taxon APIFORMES

Compiler and date details

August 2012 - Introduction edited by A.D. Austin, The University of Adeliade, with ABRS

2012 - Entries updated by Ken Walker, Museum Victoria

30 March 2006 - Updated and revised by Ken L. Walker, Museum Victoria, 11 Nicholson St, Carlton, Victoria, Australia

1993 - J.C. Cardale, CSIRO Division of Entomology, Canberra, Australia


The bees, Anthophila, are represented in Australia by over 1600 species. Excluding the Formicidae, they are the largest group of aculeate Hymenoptera in Australia. Bees feed their larvae on pollen and nectar; sphecoids feed their larvae on insect or spider prey (Michener & Houston 1991). The term Anthophila has no formal taxonomic rank, but is used to describe the families within ‘Apoidea’ s.str. that contain bees.

The species found in Australia or its external territories (Lord Howe Is., Norfolk Is., Cocos (Keeling) Ils, Christmas Is., Ashmore Is., Cartier Is.) are treated in this Catalogue using the taxonomic arrangement of Michener (2000). Seven families of bees are recognised (Apidae, Andrenidae, Colletidae, Halictidae, Megachilidae, Melittidae and Stenotritidae), of which five are found in Australia. The two families not recorded from Australia are the Andrenidae, known from all continents except Australia; and the Melittidae, from the Holarctic and Afrotropical Regions (Hurd 1979).

Several changes at the family level have been made since the previous version of the Catalogue. The family Ctenoplectridae has been reduced to the tribe Ctenoplectrini in the family Apidae; and the familiy Anthophoridae has been included in the family Apidae. The subfamilies Nomadinae and Xylocopinae are now subfamilies within the family Apidae, but genera from the former subfamily Anthophorinae have been distributed between the tribes Anthophorini and Melectini (cleptoparasitic forms) of the subfamily Apinae.

Michener (1979) examined the distributions of bee families and found that they reach their greatest abundance and diversity in warm temperate, and contiguous desertic regions, as in the Mediterranean basin, the Californian area and in Australia. Cool temperate areas in Australia have markedly few bees; only 18 genera have been recorded from Tasmania. The bee fauna of the moist tropics varies considerably. The fauna of the Afrotropical Region is richer than the Oriental Region and the fauna becomes poorer eastwards towards New Guinea and the north-east of Australia.

Australia is unique in having about half its species, and the greatest diversity of genera, in the family Colletidae, and Australian bees are extraordinarily dependent of on a single family of plants, the Myrtaceae (Michener 1965; Armstrong 1979).

The history of taxonomic studies on Australian bees is summarised in Cardale (1993).


To the layman, the word 'bee' generally means the introduced honeybee, Apis mellifera Linnaeus, a species of the comparatively small family of social bees, the Apidae. Apis mellifera occurs over much of Australia, in beehives or feral, and is highly visible on crops, garden plants and native vegetation. The painful sting it can inflict is well known. The honeybee is of considerable economic importance and its honey is a part of our diet. There are very few species of truly social bees in Australia and the great majority of native species, including all species of our largest family, the Colletidae, are solitary.

All bees visit flowers for nectar and almost all females gather pollen as food for their larvae. One Australian species, Ctenoplectra australica Cockerell, probably uses floral oils. The females of cleptoparasitic species, however, lay their eggs on the provisions that their host (another species of bee) has gathered for her own larvae.

Solitary bees do not cooperate in nest construction or provisioning. Each female makes her own nest, constructs a cell, mass provisions it with enough pollen and nectar to feed a larva to maturity, lays an egg in the cell and then closes that cell before starting the next cell or nest. There is no cooperation with, or behavioural or morphological differentiation from, other females of the same species. There is usually no contact between generations as the larvae develop in closed cells and the mother normally dies before her offspring emerge.

The most highly social bees, on the other hand, live in colonies where numerous individuals and adults of more than one generation coexist. There is cooperation and division of labour among individuals in the construction of the nest and the feeding of the larvae; there is contact between adults and larvae as the larvae are fed progressively; and the egg-laying caste is physically differentiated from the other females.

Between the extremes of solitary and fully social behaviour, there are various intermediates (Michener 1974): solitary species which nest in aggregations without interaction in nest building; communal species with several females sharing a nest but with each female constructing, provisioning and laying eggs in her own cells; communal species that cooperate in construction and provisioning of cells but each female has fully developed ovaries; and communal species in which there are females that do not lay eggs and differ from the egg-layers only in the lack of ovarian development.

A colony is described as subsocial when it consists of one female who protects and feeds her immature offspring before they reach maturity. In this case, there is no cooperation with or division of labour among the adults. Colonies of primitively social bees do have cooperation between, and division of labour among, the adults. Contact between two or more generations of adults occurs, but the adults are not physically differentiated.


Studies of bees have been hampered by problems associated with the identification of individuals to species. Very few Australian bees have been studied in the laboratory and, for most groups, field observations on biology are fragmentary. The best source of information is Michener (1965) and the most important references are listed under the family headings. McGinley (1989) catalogued references to immature bees of the world.

Many of the solitary bees build nests in the soil, some in rotten wood. Others use pre-existing holes or hollows in wood or the soil, dig out the centre of a pithy stem, or re-use a mud-nest built by other Hymenoptera. Bees nesting in wood, rather than soil, are more likely to be successful migrants to another country; two such species of Australian Colletidae, Euryglossina (Euryglossina) proctotrypoides Cockerell and Hyleoides concinna (Fabricius) have become established in New Zealand (Donovan 1980, 1983; Fordham 1989).

The discovery of polymorphic males in some communally nesting Halictidae (Houston 1970) and work on the relatedness of nest-sharers in Allodapini (Schwarz 1988) have led to continuing research on the development of insect social behaviour (Knerer & Schwarz 1976, 1978; Knerer 1980; Kukuk & Schwarz 1987, 1988; Sugden 1989; Kukuk & Crozier 1990; O'Keefe & Schwarz 1990, Schwarz & Blows 1991, Schwarz & O'Keefe 1991).


Bees obtain their food (pollen, nectar, or in a few groups, oil), from the flowers of angiosperms. In turn, many plants depend on bees to effect pollination. Polylectic species gather pollen from a wide range of plants while oligolectic species are restricted to a few species of related flowers. Many species of Australian bees, especially in the Colletidae, appear to be oligolectic on the family Myrtaceae. If pollen is carried internally, as by Hylaeinae, Euryglossinae and at least one species of Colletinae (Houston 1981), it is difficult to confirm oligolecty.

Michener (1965) and Armstrong (1979) provide the most comprehensive information on the flower visiting records of Australian native bees but Australian flower visiting records for A. mellifera are scattered through the botanical and agricultural literature (e.g. Blake & Roff 1958; Collins & Rebelo 1987; Goebel 1984; Vithanage & Ironside 1986; Ramsey 1988; Heard et al. 1990). Many records of pollination by native bees do not identify the bees to species (e.g. Bernhardt 1986, 1987; Dafni & Calder 1987; Beardsell et al. 1986; Anderson & Symon 1988; House 1989; Gross 1992), so these records could not be included in the Catalogue.


The majority of native bees are seldom noticed even though their nests may be conspicuous, especially those of species that nest in aggregations. Many bees nest in pre-existing hollows or burrows and nests, e.g. those of Megachilidae (Rayment 1935), may be found also in many locations around houses. However, they are seldom recorded as pests.

Xylocopini, or carpenter bees, excavate burrows in sound wood but no Australian species have been recorded as pests of structural timber. Blue-banded bees (Amegilla (Zonamegilla) spp.) are sometimes found nesting in adobe walls or in mortar between bricks or stones in house walls (Rayment 1944; Cardale 1968) and possibly cause damage to aboriginal rock art sites (Naumann & Watson 1987; Wylie et al. 1987). In the wild, both native and introduced honeybees build nests in hollow trees, in hollows among rocks and sometimes in cavities in houses. Native bees have been known to collect fresh paint or putty from buildings for use in their nests (Michener 1981b; Wagner & Dollin 1982).

Worldwide, Apidae are managed by humans for honey production and pollination of plants. Australian Aboriginals have been recorded eating the larvae of the large, solitary, soil-nesting anthophorid, Amegilla dawsoni (Douglas 1980) and use the honey of the stingless honeybees, Trigona (Heterotrigona) spp. and Austroplebeia spp. (McKenzie 1975; Dollin & Dollin 1983, 1986). The Australian native bees otherwise have been largely neglected but there is now interest in their potential as pollinators (Heard 1988; Velthuis 1990).

The honeybee, A. mellifera, was introduced into Australia early in the 19th Century. The honey industry in Australia produces significant domestic and export income and, in addition, A. mellifera is the most important insect pollinator of crop plants as well as a very significant pollinator of native plants. A. mellifera has been suspected of deleterious effects. It may 'rob' native flowers without pollinating them or compete with native bees for floral resources (Douglas 1980; Pyke 1983; Pyke & Balzer 1985; Wapshere 1988; Sugden & Pyke 1991). The apiarists' point of view has been put by Winner (1983), Burking & Kessell (1987) and in papers, for example, Rhodes (1988).

Other species of bees were brought into Australia in the 1930s to pollinate specific introduced crops. Bumblebees were brought into Australia from England (Young 1967). They were also introduced from New Zealand where they had been established for the same purpose. The first introductions into Australia failed, but in 1992 one species (Bombus terrestris (Linnaeus)) was found to be established. The alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata (Fabricius), was released in South Australia in 1987 in an attempt to improve the production of lucerne seed (Anon. 1987). Its establishment and success have yet to be assessed. Pollination of lucerne by honeybees and native bees was studied by Doull (1961) and Bray (1973).

Females of the larger, solitary, native bees can sting humans. These bees are not aggressive in defence of their nests and such stings are rare and usually involve the bee being trapped in clothing. Recorded cases of allergic reaction to stings from native bees are few (Morris et. al 1988).

Apis mellifera is aggressive in defence of its colony and is relatively more likely to sting people. Pain and swelling at the site of the sting are a normal reaction. Medical treatment may be necessary if a person is stung by a large number of bees or on certain areas of the body, such as near the eyes or on the tongue. Serious medical problems may arise in individuals who have become sensitised to honeybee venoms: they may suffer a severe allergic reaction to subsequent stings (Southcott 1988). The risk from bee stings is generally exaggerated (Schmidt 1986).


Houston (1987) described the fossil brood cells of Stenotritidae from Australia. Publications on fossil bees described from other parts of the world include Zeuner & Manning (1976), Wille (1977), Burnham (1979), Michener & Grimaldi (1988a, 1988b) and Rasnitsyn & Michener (1991).

A full list of names designated as nomina nuda in the Catalogue is given by Cardale (1993).

Detailed information on the introduction of honeybees to Australia is given by Barrett (1995, 1999); discussion on the possible harmful effects of feral honeybees has continued (Oldroyd 1998, Horskins & Turner 1999). Williams and Adam (1997) studied interactions between Apis mellifera and Trigona carbonaria, and the effects of the establishment of Bombus terrestris have been considered by Hingston and McQuillan (1998a, 1998b, 1999) and Goulson (2000). An African megachilid, Afranthidium repetitum Schulz, has become established in southern Queensland, Apis cerana Fabricius has been found on Torres Strait islands and a nest was eradicated in Darwin (Weatherhead 1999).


Excluded Taxa


COLLETIDAE: Leioproctus (Hoplocolletes) ventralis (Friese, 1924)

COLLETIDAE: Leioproctus (Leioproctus) maorium (Cockerell, 1913)

COLLETIDAE: Leioproctus (Nesocolletes) waterhousei Cockerell, 1905

COLLETIDAE: Prosopis volatilis Smith, 1879

ANTHOPHORIDAE: Thyreus gemmata Cockerell, 1911

ANTHOPHORIDAE: Thyreus novaehollandiae (Lepeletier, 1841)

APIDAE: Trigona (Heterotrigona) canifrons Smith, 1857

ANTHOPHORIDAE: Xylocopa bryorum (Fabricius, 1775)

ANTHOPHORIDAE: Xylocopa muscaria (Fabricius, 1775)

ANTHOPHORIDAE: Xylocopa simillima Smith, 1854


General References

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History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
26-Jun-2023 APIFORMES 26-Jun-2023 MODIFIED Dr Ken Walker (NMV)
22-Oct-2015 APOIDEA (s. l.) 01-Mar-2023 MODIFIED
22-Oct-2015 26-Jun-2023 MODIFIED
07-Aug-2012 ADDED