There are over 300 different variants of bees found around the world, and one of the most familiar kinds is the mason bee. The bee that lives in your backyard will probably not be the same kind of bee that lives on the other side of the country, but all mason bees share the same characteristics. Mason bees are unique not only in how they build their home but in how they live amongst themselves. Bees are beneficial to your home and the natural well-being of your community, so the more you know about mason bees and what the bees can do, the better.
Mason bees come from the Osmia family of Megachilidae, and they originated in Europe, where they got their name from building their nests within hollows of masonry. Mason bees are pollen-carrying bees, although unlike other bees, such as a bumblebee or honey bees, bees in the Megachilidae family are solitary. This means they live on their own instead of with other members of their own species in a hive. Mason bees also look different from other kinds of bees. While many Mason bees have an orange-rust color to them, there are others that also have blue and green colors.
Most bees that live in a hive system have different jobs within the hive. There are worker bees which collect pollen to help make honey, soldier bees that defend the hive, and there is a queen bee which is the matriarch of the hive and produces all the bees within the hive. Mason bees are different. As these bees live mostly solitary lives (outside the mating season), all female bees can reproduce.
After laying cocoons within the nest, a male and female bee will hatch. The male bee will hatch first and wait around the nest for the female bee. Soon after, both pull free of the cocoons and the male and female bees will mate. Often the female bee will mate with several local male bees to help make sure she becomes pregnant and, after mating, the male bees will die.
Once the male bees die, the female bee begins the building of her nest. As there is only a single bee, the female only needs a small area, which is why she will look for hollowed out branches or holes in stone or dry plumbing. She might also take on the former nests of beetles or other insects. The bees do not dig out nests but they will gather material used to build the interior of the nest. They will pick up dirt, mud, small bits of plants and other material to build the nest, similar to how a bird will build its own nest.
After making a nest, the female bee will collect pollen from the local plant life and create nectar. The female bee will take time to leave a large supply of nectar for the offspring. Once the bee is satisfied with the amount, the female bee will then lay her egg on top of the pollen. The female will then block off this area of the nest with a small amount of mud and continue the process of laying more eggs. The eggs found at the back of the nest are usually female eggs, and the eggs laid at the front of the nest are usually male eggs as they will hatch sooner than the female eggs.
When the female mason bee has finished laying eggs for the entire nest, she will seal off the access point of the nest and then look for another location to lay future eggs. When the bees match within the nest they are in a larva state. The larva will consume the nectar left by its mom, all while creating a cocoon around itself. By the time it has consumed the nectar, the cocoon will be complete. This usually occurs in the winter months where the temperature is below freezing. Depending on the variant of mason bee, these bees may take up to two years to hatch, so it is a long process.
Mason bees do not create honey or anything else for human consumption, but they are great pollinators, so they should be a welcome sight in your herb, flower, or vegetable garden. These bees do not eat other insects, so they do not provide that benefit which other kinds of bees provide. The main benefit of mason bees for your property is the improvement of pollination. Pollinating will help your plants and allow your flowers and other vegetation to reproduce. Other bees provide this capability as well.
However, the problem with having other bees pollinate your vegetation is you will then have dozens, if not hundreds, of bees on your property. If you have children, this is not all that desirable as it increases the chance of being stung. So, while you will want to increase the pollination of your plants, you also don’t want to put your child in harm’s way. With mason bees, you will not have that kind of issue. As you will only have a single female bee that will then lay eggs, and the males will die shortly after birth, there isn’t a high chance of having more than just a few bees on your property, all pollinating your plants.
The best way to attract mason bees is to have suitable nesting opportunities for them. To do this, you can build a mason bee house. A mason bee house should be around six or seven feet off the ground, attached to the side of your home, near flowers and other vegetation. You can also place it on a garage or shed.
The house can be a hexagonally shaped construction that, before filling, looks similar to a bee house only without a front cover. The inside you will then fill with slender tubing, straw, pine tree branches, and other kinds of plant life. This will give the bees something to use in building the interior of the nest. You can also partition the hexagon with a strip of cardboard (or build one with wood) so you can stack more material into the house.
The home becomes attractive to bees as the slender tubes are perfect for laying eggs. Plus, having the tree branches and other nest-building materials provides convenience for the bees and reduces the distance they need to travel to collect the nest-building items. You will want to place the bee home near plants, so you may also want to plant a small garden to help attract these fascinating insects. Just make sure your garden has a variety of flowering plants that blossom during different times of the year. This way your local bees will always have sources of pollen and nectar, which are their only sources of food.
You may not immediately notice mason bees on your property. At first, you will probably only have one or two out collecting pollen; and even if you notice them, you may not be able to tell it from other kinds of bees. However, you’ll know your bee house is working when tubes are closed off. This means the female bee has used the tube and has planted her eggs into it. Plus, as there are additional tubes, the same female bee might eventually use them. The bee home will be there for a long period, so you can have a single bee house on your property for years (if not longer).
If you want to increase the number of mason bees on your property, you can set up multiple bee houses around your home. You can have one on the back of the house and another on a garage or a shed. You can also perch stationary houses on stilts in your garden to keep it elevated above the ground. This way, other insects and animals can’t use or accidentally destroy the bee houses you set up. It may take time, but by bringing more mason bees to your property, you’ll help strengthen your local ecosystem and increase pollination in your garden.
We hope this article has helped you gain a better understanding of what mason bees are and how they differ from other bee species you may see in your yard. Bees are a helpful insect to have on your property, even if you don’t need them around to help pollinate your vegetable garden, as they are a vital part of having a healthy ecosystem.
If you have small children, you may not want a large nest of bees nearby, but know that bees will avoid delivering a sting unless they feel overwhelmingly threatened. They aren’t inherently dangerous. With the help of a mason bee, you will improve the local ecosystem of your property, while their solitary lifestyle will minimize any threat of a sting posed to children.