Rita the ‘reed bee’ is indigenous to Australia and could be any one of the 80 or so bee species within the genus Exoneura.
She is not a social bee, like honey bees and stingless bees, she is a semi-social (allodapine) bee who progressively feeds her young in a small, open brood chamber.
Rita doesn’t make honey, but she is a very important pollinator because she carries dry pollen in special (scopal) hairs, on her back legs. She only collects enough nectar and pollen to feed a few offspring at a time. Her babies are bee grubs.
Rita nests in the dead stems of both native and exotic plants. She can excavate the pithy centre of weedy plants such as Lantana, Blackberry and Raspberry, or simply nest in the hollows of reeds or rushes.
Rita and her daughters overwinter in their nest and, if the weather is warm enough, they may even be seen foraging for nectar on warm winter days.
Rita has morphological characteristics that define her as a reed bee, but she also has a distinguished personality, befitting her role as mascot for Australian Pollinator Week.
The last three metasomal segments, of her red/brown abdomen, are flattened. She uses these to defend her nest against ants and spiders, by blocking off the entrance with her ‘bottom’.
She has distinctive yellow markings on her clypeaus (forehead), made more distinguished by her gorgeous pompadour. Her black thorax is pinched at the ‘waist’ with an elegant belt and her gold choker highlights her neck. No shaving for this little girl, as she needs those hairy legs to carry pollen back to her nest to feed her babies.
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