The Magical Mason Bee
In the USA, mason bees, leaf cutter bees and many others are called “native bees,” but there were no known native bees in North America before Europeans brought them over on ships in the early 1600s.
When it comes to work ethic, the mason bee leaves the honeybee in the dust. In one day, a mason bee pollinates the same number of flowers it takes 100 honeybees to pollinate. This is because the mason bee carries pollen all over its hairy little body, whereas the honeybee wets the honey and carries it packed in pollen baskets on their hind legs.
In contrast, a honeybee will fly 3-4 miles to forage whereas masons and other native bees are homebodies and don’t usually fly farther than about 300 feet for pollen and nectar. Which means they will stay loyal to your garden flowers as long as you make sure they have a nice variety.
Here is a magnificent 5:02 minute video showing a day in the life of a busy female mason bee:
Mason bees love apple and cherry blossoms and make their spring debut every year when these blossoms burst forth, filled with nectar.
Mason bees are zen-like, passive and gentle. Even when it comes to housing, they look for ready-made homes whereas the more energized carpenter bee drills holes as nests, and can become a property-damaging nuisance.
There are 25,000 bee species and not even 2% of them are social bees like bumble bees and honeybees. The other 98% are solitary bees. North America is home to about 140 types of mason bees, whose correct name is Osmia lignaria.
The female mason bee is both worker bee and queen bee whereas social bees have a queen bee that is physically different to her thousands of female worker bees, and the only reproductive bee in the hive. A mason bee lays all her eggs in about one month at the rate of an egg a day and plugs the nesting hole with a clay-like mixture, compared to the honeybee Queen who lays closer to 2000 eggs per day.
Bees have compound eyes, each with 6,900 lenses per eye. A human has one lens per eye. A bee’s sense of smell is 100 times more powerful than a human’s nose. Mason bees are small and a stunning metallic blue color, unlike the typical “yellow and black” bee we associate with bees. The honeybee flaps its wings 230 times per second, which probably explains the "buzzzzz" we hear. A bee can fly 15-20 miles per hour.
Only about 10% of bees, including honeybees, live in a beehive or bee colony with a Queen Bee. Mason bees are solitary. About 70% of native bees nest and dwell in the earth, while about 20% (including mason bees) live in hollow stems, holes or cavities. Some get lucky and move into a pre-fab bee condo or bee house, like the one you are thinking of building or buying to invite mason bees into your enchanted garden...
Mason bees do not make honey, they mix pollen and nectar into pollen loaves and lay their egg on it so the larvae have food to feed on when they are born. In contrast, about 768 bees spend their entire lives foraging on 2 million flowers and flying over 55,000 miles to make 1 pound of honey—and this isn’t considered a precious commodity?
Would you like to invite mason bees into your world? Plant native flowering pollen-producing flowers in your garden, or some rosemary and thyme, set a renewable source of fresh water like the bee bath we blogged about recently, and stack some nesting holes in the form of hollow stems for them to call home.
What can you share about mason bees or other native bees? Scoot over to our Facebook page and tell the world of bee lovers!