Dawson’s burrowing bee threatened by tourists and reckless drivers, locals say

On a sharp corner of a gravel track on the outskirts of Carnarvon stands a makeshift barricade built to warn motorists of an upcoming swarm of native bees.

Tourist Keith Schekkerman stands amidst the buzz and buzz.

With caring hands and watchful eyes, he carefully watches the large bees as they rush to and from their shallow burrows across the trail.

Mr. Schekkerman has been regularly monitoring the bee colony for a month.

“People have to be careful,” he said.

“As you can see, they’re right in the middle of the road here.”

Mr. Schekkerman is one of many tourists drawn to the area to witness Dawson’s annual burrow bee phenomenon.

Keith Schekkerman says the bees have gotten bigger over the past month.(ABC News: Kate Ferguson)

The rare species, known as Amegilla dawsoni, measures up to two centimeters long and is Australia’s largest native bee species.

They are mainly found in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia.

Bees are dormant larvae underground for most of the year.

New adults emerge from their nests in late winter or early spring.

A bee in a man's hand.
Adult bees are only found between July and September.(ABC News: Kate Ferguson)

Their breeding season is a spectacular activity, as the white females are fertilized by the yellow-colored males.

The male population then dies, as the females create new underground nests.

A bee flying above the burrows.
Young adult bees work their way through the soil to the surface after hatching.(ABC News: Kate Ferguson)

They lay their eggs in burrows up to 30 centimeters deep and have an unfortunate preference for gravel tracks, frequented by 4×4 enthusiasts.

Mr Schekkerman took it upon himself to create a makeshift barricade from scraps of wood and plastic pipes after discovering a rare colony along a track leading to a nearby popular beach.

“So far it has worked,” he said.

“No car went over it.

“They kind of seem to like the road and people have to be very careful not to run them over because they’re a fantastic natural phenomenon.”

A car drives past a makeshift barrier on a dirt road.
Mr. Shcekkerman built a barrier across the road to protect a settlement from traffic.(ABC News: Kate Ferguson)

Antoinette Roe, an Indigenous elder and Dawson digger bee researcher, said bees are culturally important.

“The local natives will come out in December or January, dig the burrows, put [them] over the coals and cook the food, just open the burrow and eat it,” she said.

A woman smiles at the camera.
Antoinette Roe researched rare species and educated locals and tourists.(ABC News: Kate Ferguson)

Ms Roe said several well-known trails were closed to traffic during burrow bee season.

But she said some drivers were ignoring the signs.

“It’s just a sign for people to drive around,” she said.

“So people have to stop and take a look.

“If it’s a large crowd of them, just drive around them.”

Protect the species

Resident Raymond Edney said the bee story was part of a line of cultural songs.

“They are a delight here,” he said.

“My mother told me stories of how they used to stick a stick down the burrows to get honey.”

Mr Edney is calling on local authorities to better monitor bees to ensure they are safe from curious motorists.

A man smiles at the camera
Raymond Edney says he grew up hearing stories about bees.(ABC News: Kate Ferguson)

“We need to encourage the county to employ local tour guides and bring people into the country, so we can share our stories,” he said.

“We have to take care of our bees because there are only certain areas where they nest and right now it’s an area with a lot of traffic here.”

More education needed

Mr Edney said bees play a vital role in maintaining local ecosystems.

A drone of a car driving past a colony of bees.
An active nesting colony may contain up to 10,000 burrows.

Ms Roe encourages tourists to visit the Gwoonwardu Mia Cultural Center in Carnarvon and learn more about bees before setting out to find them.

“We have maps and can answer questions about Dawson’s burrowing bee, always happy to chat and share stories,” she said.

“If you encounter them, remember that there are important sites near Carnarvon for the local indigenous people.

“So don’t drive on the roads in July and September, be careful and enjoy the bees and being among them.”

About Thomas Thorton

Check Also

Historic Environment Scotland denies ‘ban’ on tour guides using non-inclusive words at Edinburgh Castle

Let us know what you think and join the conversation at the bottom of this …