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Life: Video extras: Dawson's Bees

Updated Wednesday 11th November 2009

The fascinating mating cycle of Dawson's bees, as captured by the Life team

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Copyright BBC


Copyright BBC


Voiceover: In a dry area of Western Australia, there are some strange cones on the sand. These are the tunnel exits of an insect, Dawson’s bee. The Life team are here to film some extraordinary behaviour.

Man 1: The life of the Dawson’s bee is pretty different to what you’d expect for a bee. I mean everyone thinks of bees as living in hives and these guys just live, well I don’t know, is each hole a hive do you think?

Woman: Each hole is a nest, so each Female has their own nest I guess you’d say.

Man 2: Yeah.

Man 1: But there’s all pupae in there isn’t there. Yes.

Female: Yeah, each Female controls her own.

Man 1: She’s the queen of her own burrow.

Female: Yeah, destiny plus burrow, yeah.

Man 1: But the males don’t treat her very well.

Man 2: I think it’s a live fast, die young ...

Female: Well there’s, yeah, there’s a very long period of inactivity for the whole year, and then you just have ...

Man 2: Yeah, they spend most of their life underground developing.

Female: Yeah, there’s a short season of reproduction and that’s all they do really. Sleep and reproduce, and that’s it.


Female: We’ve seen the male here today fending off large numbers of other males to be alone at the hole at the point when the Female emerges and then, if he’s lucky, the Female will scurry away with just him on her back and if they’re quick enough they might avoid a bunch of other males joining the fray. But, as you can see, there are a lot of other males really interested in this Female and he’s going to, he’s been working hard for – oh how long, we’ve been here for over ten minutes now, he’s been working hard to keep his position at the hole and be first in line and she seems to be waiting until he’s really on his own.


Female: And she’s out. The Female is doing the carrying of the male on her back. She’ll be trying to get to a sheltered position but, as we can see, it’s being hampered by a large number of other males who are trying to get the dominating male off her back. So they’re using their mandibles to really bite into that male, and probably damage his wings as well if they can. So we followed the Female about ten metres over the clay pan to the edge here, to the vegetation, away from all the activity, and we’re now seeing the mating happening with the male on the dorsal surface of the Female. We’ve seen this process last for maybe two or three minutes but in some cases it’s been very quick.

Man 1: You might come a bit closer. If you point to it again. That’s it.

There’s a lot of males have emerged this morning and very few Females, and this one was just an unlucky one and they just pulled her to bits. It was, oh I don’t know, it was pretty um, pretty scary stuff.

Man 2: We’ve been filming up to 1,000 frames a second and when you’re filming at that speed these bees that move so quickly, they’re just like a white blur, when you slow that 1,000 frames a second down to 25 or 30 frames a second all of a sudden these bees have so much personality and you see that they turn their head to line up with the hole and they move their antennas down just when they get close to the hole, just when they’re about to go into it, and their legs come down like landing gear of an aeroplane just before they land, and yeah, the footage looks amazing, it’s really very spectacular.

Man 1: Is there one coming?

Man 2: No. No, they’re, I think they’ve probably gone to get some more pollen.

Female: We saw a combination of different behaviours. We saw Females emerging and being mugged by tens of males, all keen to be first in line. We got some nice Females just cracking out of the ground, eating their way out, which was nice.

Man 2: Hmm.

Female: What else did we get?

Man 2: That’s the first time we’ve seen that isn’t it, when there were about twelve males all competing for a single Female and we weren’t really sure if there was a

Female: There’s been a shortage of Females today I think.

Man 1: Yeah.

Female: So any Female that came along was the centre of everyone’s attention.

Man 1: Yeah. It was really, oh it was very violent there.

Man 2: It was. I was surprised she made it out alive.

Man 1: Yeah, well one of them didn’t.

Female: Yeah, we saw her head get knocked off.

Man 1: Yeah. that’s no way to treat a Sheila is it.

Man 2: No, no way to treat a Sheila at all.

Female: No. It doesn’t work like that. Once the head’s off, it’s all over!

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