‘Extinct’ native bee found at Eungella after 100 years
Eungella resident Wendy Storer was at home minding her own business when a stranger turned up on her doorstep.
“There was this young fella standing at the door,” Ms Storer said.
“He was all crazy about bees and he was pretty excited because I had an Illawarra flame tree in the yard.
“He just asked if he could look around. Not longer after, he came back really excited.”
That stranger was PhD candidate James Dorey. He had traversed the eastern coast of Australia from South Australia up to Cairns to research bee evolution.
As a side project, he hunted for the equivalent of the Tasmanian Tiger — the Pharohylaeus lactiferous — a native bee not seen since 1923.
Before his 2019 field trip, there was only six of them ever recorded.
“One of the places it had been found almost 100 years ago was down labelled as Mackay, which is pretty vague,” Mr Dorey said.
“I sampled a little bit around Mackay and the broader area but I didn’t expect to have much luck.”
But he said his strategy was to search near two trees bearing red flowers: the firewheel tree and Illawarra flame tree.
“I stand up and look up with my (13m) net, most of the time you can see (the bees) from the ground,” he said.
“You get pretty good at anticipating where they’re going. It’s a steering from the hip type of thing,” he said with a laugh.
Along with Eungella, Mr Dorey sampled 225 other spots across New South Wales and Queensland with specimens placed in the freezer to temporarily slow them down for closer examination.
The research published in The Journal Of Hymenoptera contributes to Mr Dorey’s doctorate studies at Flinders University but it is a far cry from his undergraduate aspirations.
He said he had no interest in studying insects; that was until buying a second-hand macro lens and looking closely at the tree in the front yard of his Brisbane home.
“I found a bit over 30 species of a native bee,” the 28 year old said.
“They were all different shapes, sizes and colours and they blew me away.
“I was hopelessly in love at that point.”
Mr Dorey said his findings on the P. lactiferous indicated the species preferred certain habitats making it vulnerable to environmental destruction like rainforest bushfires.
“Eungella is probably what you call a sky island … you can’t just fly across to the next mountain, it kind of isolates things in places like that,” he said.
But Eungella residents were stepping up to help preserve the species.
Ms Storey said the local craft group had built bee hotels after the exciting discovery.
“The ones that I have set up are in my yard probably 10m from the tree,” she said.
“If you could see this tree, it’s so high.
“I haven’t seen any (in the hotels) yet but we’ve been keeping an eye on them.”