Mason bees are friendly little bees! I have held them on my thumb and in my hand and never been stung by them. My children have also had the privilege of holding them in their hands, and no stings!
Mason bees are a solitary species that, unlike the honey bee, have no colony to lean on. And unlike the honey bees, every female is fertile (meaning she can lay both male and female eggs), and every female builds her own nest after she mates with a male. The sole purpose of the male bee is to mate with a female and then he dies shortly thereafter, not unlike the honey bee drones, sorry fellas.
The newly emerged females proceed to collect as much pollen and nectar as possible before they begin laying eggs. Mason bees do not have pollen baskets on their hind legs. Instead, they immerse themselves in the center of flowers and cover their bodies with pollen before moving to the next flower. This makes them fairly inefficient at keeping pollen to themselves, but efficient at pollinating because they dive into flowers and transfer lots of pollen from flower to flower. They work vigorously from early morning until dusk, and cover impressive pollinating ground in that time span. One mason bee can cover what 100 honey bees can in one day. Wow! But what’s the big rush? Why are these bees working so hard?
Unlike honey bees, mason bees have a very fleeting lifespan and must get the job done in a fraction of the time. Males live long enough to mate, up to 2 weeks, and females live up to 6 weeks. So, females are down to business collecting pollen and nectar right from the start of their lives.
Mason bees search for flowers of any kind. The sole mission a female mason bee is to lay eggs, and she needs pollen and nectar to begin this process. She can lay between 30-35 eggs in her lifetime, which again is only 4-6 weeks long. That is quite an achievement!
She will visit 75 flowers to gather one full load of pollen, and 25 loads are required for one pollen wad, which is then destined to feed one larva. So, she will visit up to 1875 flowers in one day to lay one egg in one cell!
She is a very busy bee and an excellent pollinator. Her method is to bellyflop into the flower and roll around in the pollen collecting it all over her body, and then goes to the next flower and repeats. It seems sloppy and disorganized, but it is a very efficient cross-pollinating method.
Mason bees look for holes containing long tubes (6″at least) to nest in, as they can easily stack the eggs in partitioned cells on top of each other. The holes can either be provided via a mason bee house or can be the long cavity created by a previous resident, such as a wood boring insect of similar size.
They are solitary bees so there is no hive created or protected by a community. However, mason bees do prefer to nest next door to each other, in parallel. Once a mason bee has found a nesting site she begins the layering project that will make anyone dizzy just reading about it!
Once she has collected her first load of nectar and pollen for she will go head first into her chosen nesting site and regurgitate the nectar first. She then proceeds to back out only to back in again and shake the pollen wad on top of the nectar. She repeats this process up to 25 times for one egg, and finally lays an egg atop the nectar-pollen ball.
However, she isn’t quite finished yet. She caps the cell with mud which she has collected from a nearby source. This process is repeated daily until she fills a cavity with cells, which means she could visit as many as 60,000 flowers in her 4-6 weeks of life!!! Aren’t you dizzy just reading this?
This little mason bee was feeing in apple blossoms in late March of 2015. She has a very yellow belly, and you can see it if you look closely.
Mason bees are some of the earliest risers of the season, and flowering trees and bushes are often the first in bloom feeding these lovely bees. Later in the season mason bees will collect pollen and nectar from whatever blooms are available. Mason bees are very important to our ecosystem and providing a nesting site in your own yard helps them thrive!
I recommend getting a bee nesting house up by the middle of March, so it is there when these little ladies begin their search for nesting options. Mason bees live across North America, so if you place the housing, you will get some residents. You can add leafcutter bee trays in April, and see leaves plugging holes instead of mud.
Thank you for joining this very important movement to save our bees!