A hundred happy little bees, nesting, resting, in their cells. A hundred thousand eggs to hatch, and fly into a flower's bell. A hundred million insect kisses like a wish on wings that flit: A single earth to spend our lives, so Leave it better than we found it.
There I was, walking out of Lowes, looking forward to being done shopping, when a bright shock of yellow caught my eye. It was a painted bee home, a wooden construct divided into two parts–the top with hollow tubes and the bottom with holes drilled into wedges of wood.
I’m not a person given to frivolous spending, but I found myself walking back into the store to buy one. It simply grabbed me, delighted me, the idea of attracting some wild bees to a safe home on my property. So I went home and noodled for a few days about where to hang it. And finally, in late April, I nailed the bee home to a spot on my fence.
At first, I visited daily, hoping for activity. But it wasn’t until July that I walked outside to find a change–some of the cells were filled! Once, I caught the busy little momma bee at her work and was surprised to see this bee was dark and green, looking more like a large fly than the image of a bee that I had in my head. This was my first glimpse of a mason bee.
Naturally, this sent me enthusiastically chasing down information about mason bees. Here are some highlights of what I learned:
- Mason bees are excellent pollinators. They are more efficient than honeybees, but do not make honey.
- Mason bees control the gender of their progeny. Female eggs are buried deeper in a tube, while male eggs are buried closer to the opening. This way, the males can exit earlier.
- Indeed, males only live about two weeks, while females live ten weeks.
- The tubes won’t be empty until next spring, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t activity going on inside them. In fact, the eggs hatch shortly after being laid. Then, the larvae eat the food left behind by the female bee and then form a cocoon that hatches after winter. They eat their way out of their cocoon and the cell once temperatures are warm enough.
- The tubes and wedges in your bee home should be thrown out and replaced by fresh ones every couple of years or so, as they can degrade over time and threaten the health of the eggs.
This video below from PBS was a particular favorite. It added some really nice sound effects, and also answer a lot of basic questions I had. It seems more aimed at children, but if you don’t know anything about mason bees, it’s a great introductory video without being condescending.
The last thing that I learned was that you can really get into nurturing these little guys. Some enthusiasts remove the cocoons from the cells in the fall, in order to screen them for predatory bugs or mites or disease. You can even keep them in your refrigerator over the winter to ensure that they survive in an even-temperature environment, and don’t hatched too early the next spring.
Personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing these wonderful little bees hatch next year and knowing that I helped, in some small way, to promote a healthy native ecosystem in my area.
In case you want to know more, here’s where I got some of this information.
- Rusty. “Are Bamboo Tubes Causing Mason Bee Armageddon?” Honey Bee Suite, 30 June 2019, https://www.honeybeesuite.com/are-bamboo-tubes-causing-mason-bee-armageddon/.
- Mason Bee | Chesapeake Bay Program. https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/entry/mason_bee.
- Ms Burrell’s Science Channel. Mason Bees – Provisioning Nests and Laying Eggs. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVWTPtG4-Tw.
- Wild Bee Conservation | Xerces Society. https://xerces.org/endangered-species/wild-bees.