The blue banded bee (Amegilla) is capable of a special type of pollination behaviour called ‘buzz pollination’. In some plants, the pollen is trapped inside tiny capsules in the centre of the flower. The blue banded bee can curl her body around the flower and rapidly vibrate her flight muscles, causing the pollen to shoot out of the capsules. As she collects some pollen for her nest, she transfers some of the pollen to other flowers, successfully pollinating the flowers.
Only certain types of bees can perform buzz pollination. In Australia these include the blue banded bees and the carpenter bees. The introduced Apis mellifera (honey bees) are not able to buzz pollinate flowers.
In many overseas countries, bumble bees are used to buzz pollinate these crops. However, Australia does not have any native species of bumble bees and applications to import European bumble bees to Australia have been refused due to the significant harm these bees would cause to the Australian environment if they became feral. So research has been conducted at the University of Adelaide on the use of Australian native blue banded bees to buzz pollinate our crops.
A range of technical problems still need to be solved to allow timely and large scale production of these native bees to meet the massive needs of our greenhouse crop producers. However, the potential benefits would be huge if we could safely use one of our own native bee species to do this work.