The Life of the Mason Bee

Bee perched on a flower.

“Collaboration is the essence of life. The wind, bees and flowers work together, to spread the pollen.” ― Amit Ray

The life of the solitary Mason Bee is relatively short-lived. “Solitary bees generally live for about a year,” according to the Xerces Society. “Although we normally only see the active, adult stage of its life, which usually lasts for only three or four weeks. These creatures spent the previous eleven months growing through the egg, larva, and pupa stage in the brood cell or nest.

“During its brief adult life, the bee is focused on successful reproduction. The male bee will hang around nesting areas or foraging sites hoping to mate with a female. The female bee of most species will mate only once–she stores the sperm and releases it when needed–and then spend her time creating and provisioning a nest in which to lay her eggs. Just like honey bees, female native bees have amazing engineering skills, and go to extraordinary lengths to construct a secure nest.”

Their life cycle looks something like this: after hibernation, the males are active for about two weeks, while the females are active for between four and six weeks. It’s easy to tell when your Mason Bees have made next year’s bees for you. Mason Bees get the “Mason” part of their name by the way they seal off each nesting tube with clay or mud to protect the bees hibernating inside.

“Six-inch [long nesting] holes are better,” said the Ecological Landscaping Alliance. “Here’s why: the mason bee controls the gender of each egg she lays. Female eggs are deposited in the back of the tunnel (tucked away from rummaging woodpecker beaks or other predators) and males in the front. Since mason bees lay more male eggs than females, a 6-inch tunnel produces more female bees, which in turn increases the potential for a bigger bee population the following year.”

As you would expect, the males emerge first and wait for the females. At the six-second mark in the following video, you can see the male Mason Bee waiting outside the nesting tube. BuzzAboutBees said, “Watch as the female emerges, and quick as a flash, the male has caught her!”

Mason Bees are most active during warm, sunny weather. Bees are cold-blooded and their body temperature must reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit before they start pollinating. On cold, cloudy or rainy days, it’s possible your Mason Bees will not be very active, if at all. And that’s okay. Our native Mason Bees are highly efficient and will get the work done, even when they take a day off here and there.

With gentle and native Mason Bees in your backyard, you’re inviting nature to your doorstep. Mason Bees are also known as Orchard Bees since they’re so effective at pollinating entire orchards of fruit trees at a time. After several weeks, don’t be surprised if you’re not seeing many Mason Bees around. Check your bee house. Are many of the tubes sealed with mud or clay? Then it looks as though your Mason Bees have done their job and they’re done for the season.

Next spring, keep these three tips from Crown Bees in mind when releasing your Mason Bees: 

  • Releasing, or setting out cocoons into your bee house, is easy! The mason bees will chew out of their cocoons, fly, and return to the bee house to choose their nesting hole.
  • Check your 10-day forecast: bees need consistent 55F/13C, open blooms, and sun to fly
  • Stagger your release: try setting out 1/2 or 1/3 of your cocoons, wait a week or two & repeat

Watch the following video for a short documentary on the life of the Mason Bee.

 

SOURCES AND INTERESTING LINKS:

“An Intuitive Guide to the Gentle Mason Bee (PDF),” Crown Bees: The Native Bee Experts. Aug. 10, 2018. <https://az184419.vo.msecnd.net/mclendon/blog-content/An-Intuitive-Guide-to-the-Gentle-Mason-Bee.pdf>.

“Attract Mason Bees — No Protective Gear Needed,” Beaudette, Judy. Ecological Landscaping Alliance. Mar. 15, 2013. Aug. 10, 2018. <https://www.ecolandscaping.org/03/beneficialspollinators/attract-mason-bees-no-protective-gear-needed>.

“Feeding Early Emerged Bees,” Sandlin, Demarus Tevuk. Native Bee Blog, Crown Bees: The Native Bee Experts. Jan. 30, 2018. Aug. 10, 2018. <https://crownbees.com/blog/feeding_early_emerged_bees>.

“Frequently Asked Questions,” Crown Bees: The Native Bee Experts. 2018. Aug. 10, 2018. <https://crownbees.com/faq>.

“Mason Bees – Osmia Bicornis (previously Osmia Rufa) mating,” BuzzAboutBees, Youtube. Aug. 2, 2016. Aug. 10, 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=9&v=6NyS3xj9Ezo>.

“Mason Bees: Raising Beneficial Pollinators,” Elder, Anita. The Mountaineers. May 2, 2018. Aug. 10, 2018. <https://www.mountaineers.org/blog/mason-bees-raising-beneficial-pollinators>.

“Native Bee Biology,” The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Sept. 5, 2018. <https://xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/native-bees/>.



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