You can be excused for thinking the creatures in the photo above look like ghostly alien insects. I agree with you, they do!
These little fellows are in fact bees. They do not look anything like the regular honey bee with which all of us are familiar. For starters, they are a fraction of the size of honey bees, only two to three millimetres long compared with twelve to fifteen for honey bees.
But they do share some similarities with honey bees. Just as with honey bees, they live in colonies and produce honey, which can be harvested. The quantities of honey produced from a hive is no where near as great as that produced by honey bees, up to about one kilogram per hive per year compared with up to eighty or so kilograms per hive produced by honey bees, but this native bee honey is delicious and has many healthful properties which are still being explored. Read my article called Delicious honey.
The cover photo above is a 66.67% enlargement of a photo I took with my iPhone6. The original photo is below.
Unfortunately, these busy little bees are often mistaken for pests. They like making their homes in places such as water metre boxes, or any other cavity they can find in suburbia, but will generally choose trees which are partly hollowed out in the bush.
My iPhone was up fairly close to the tree trunk to take the photo above. The photo below is of the same hive from about a metre or so away from the trunk.
Why use a smart phone to take these photographs?
Photography is a passion of mine, and, I do have quality expensive cameras and lenses, including macro lenses. But, I do not generally go lugging these around when I go bush walking. However, my smart phone is nearly always in my pocket and can be accessed very quickly. Also, I am impressed with the quality of the photos which it produces. They are better than those produced by my early and expensive digital cameras, and of course these smart phones are no where near as heavy or bulky. And, with newer smart phones, the photographic quality is constantly improving. All of us can now be photographers.
The bee tree photographed I came across on a bush walk in Toohey Forest in Brisbane. Many people walk past this tree without realising that it is a host to a hive of native stingless bees. Yes, you read that correctly. These busy little workers do not sting. If you happen to live in Brisbane and would like me to show you this hive, all you need to do is join me on one of my free Heart Foundation Toohey Forest bush walks. Click the link for details.
The tree is an Australian native Eucalypt, and open Eucalypt forests are common along the east coast of Australia. In fact there is a open Eucalypt forest in an area of Brisbane which the local Aboriginals originally called “kuta”. “Kuta” means honey, and the Aboriginals valued the honey they obtained from these stingless native bees. “Kuta” was anglicised to become Coot-tha. Read my article on Coot-tha here.
Devastating bush fires have raged across Australia during 2019 and 2020. Billions of native animals including bees have been incinerated. Read more in my poem Whilst Australia Burns.
Fortunately Toohey Forest and the Mt Coot-tha Forest areas were not burnt, and we have since had soaking rains, so the areas should remain safe.
As I have explained in my article on Delicious Honey, there are many species of native bees in Australia. I am not an entomologist, nor would I claim to have expertise in bee identification, but the most common species of stingless native bee found in the Brisbane region is Tetragonula carbonaria, and that is probably the bee species photographed.
This is probably pushing the iPhone6 camera to its limits, but here is a 100% enlargement of these native bees.
Except for the enlargements in two of the photos above, no other post-processing was done on any of the photos shown. They are taken straight from the camera, I mean phone!