The Mason Bee (Osmia)
There are 140 species of mason bees in North America. They come in many different shapes and sizes. The red mason bee (Osmia rufa) and the blue orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria) are common native bees, and they love foraging on fruit trees. They adapt well to life in a bee condo or bee hotel, which you can buy and hang in your garden.
We blog often about mason bees. There are companies now that allow you to rent mason bees so you can keep them in your garden for the summer. If you would like to know more about this read this blog post.
Mason bees are fantastic pollinators. They usually emerge in spring.
They are considered even faster and more productive at pollinating than honeybees and most other bees, partly because pollen is collected on their abdomens and rubs off easily onto flowers.
This 2:47-minute video by Karla Thompson is a beautiful tribute to the life cycle of the orchard mason bee:
These bees are quite docile. They do not sting unless you squeeze them.
They are solitary bees, and the females are both queen bee and worker bee all rolled into one. She builds her tube-shaped nest from mud and lays her eggs. She seals off the cells with mud, which is why she is called a 'mason' bee. Female eggs are at the back of her chamber and males are closer to the door, so they exit first when spring arrives.
Male and female mason bees are black or iridescent blue and are sometimes mistaken for carpenter bees. They are “busy bees,” always on the go, looking for new flowers to forage.
Mason bees forage but do not collect pollen on their legs in pollen baskets. Instead, they collect it all over their bodies. This means the pollen is also easily transferred to flower blossoms, which may be why they are such swift pollinators.
Due to their speedy and accurate pollination, the mason bee has become a highly prized pollinator in gardens, orchards and by commercial produce farmers.
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