The Australian government has rejected an application for Bombus terrestris, the large earth bumblebee, to be imported. The bees were to be used in greenhouses for pollinating tomatoes.

This particular bee is considered an invasive species, and I have written before about bees in greenhouses not staying where they are supposed to.  These domesticated bumblebees are believed to be responsible for the spread of a parasite that is now killing native bumblebees in the US.

Australia ruled this bee was a threat to biodiversity–or what they call a Key Threatening Process.  From some supporting documents:

“Large Earth Bumblebees are specialist pollinators of a number of European plant species, either because they require a bee of a certain size (e.g. foxglove, Digitalis spp.), weight (e.g. Scotch Broom, Cytisus scoparius), or require buzz pollination to release pollen from poricidal anthers (e.g. many Solanaceae). This may facilitate an increase in the abundance and distribution of weed species. The presence of the Large Earth Bumblebee may also disrupt pollination of native plant species.”

Basically, European weeds require European bees to pollinate them because of past co-adaptation. In the absence of these bumble bees, the spread of those weeds in Australia is limited. If you put the new bees into the system…that could help the introduced weeds spread even more.

There is also concern that the size of the bumblebees may cause competition and displacement of native species.

Yay to Australia for giving native bees a chance!

Thanks to Marcia Salviato for the image.

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. Imported to the mainland at least. The bumblebees are already in the island state of Tasmania. (Which at least provides an opportunity for researchers to investigate their impact.)

    There has also been some research showing that native bees can be equally effective as pollinators of tomatoes. Some people just seem to have a ‘bee in their bonnet’ about using bumblebees.

  2. I am all for their choice to refuse them. In California, Bombus occidentalis is virtually extinct and Bombus franklini is considered extict. All caused by mail ordered bumblebees brought in for greenhouse pollination.
    Your right Axon, bees like Anthophorids can also buzz pollinate.

  3. I was quite pleased to read about this decision. Many of Australia’s native bees, of which there are about 1,500 species, are already under pressure because of competition from the commercial honey bee (Apis mellifera). The honey bee is a much better and more efficient forager than the native bees. They also fly at much lower temperatures. In areas with limited food resources, and that’s often large swathes of Australia, the native bees come out second best. Adding Bombus terrestris to their competitors would not have been a good idea.

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