When you think of the beneficial insects that help pollinate our world, honeybees tend to get all the attention. Their classic yellow and black stripes and sweet honey help them earn rank in the popularity contest. But what many people don’t know is that there are over 4,000 bee species in North America alone! One of the more well-known species is the mason bee. Mason bees are found all over North America and are distinguished by their metallic blue-green hue. Here are six amazing facts about the mason bees.
- Mason bees are “solitary bees”
Mason bees fall into the category of “solitary bee,” meaning they do not live in a colony. Instead, they live outside of a hive and typically nest in holes. While they work alone, they like to nest in groups whenever possible. There is no hierarchy or complex relationships like a honeybee colony; a female mason bee is her own queen and worker. She’ll mate with a male, lay her eggs, and die about ten weeks later.
- Mason bees get their name from their habits
In a sense, mason bees do masonry work. They don’t build wax comb hives like honeybees; rather, they look for tube-shaped holes to nest and protect their eggs. They create sections within the tube and hide pollen in the tube, then they lay an egg and seal it off with mud. They repeat this process until the entire tube is filled with about 5 - 7 eggs!
- Mason bees do not produce honey
Honey is a food source produced by honey bees and stored in their hive to feed the colony throughout the colder months. However, mason bees have no reason to store honey as their adults do not survive through winter. Their pupae (baby bees) spend the winter months maturing and will emerge from the nests once the weather begins to warm up in the spring. So while mason bees will eat nectar and pollen throughout their lives as they forage, but they do not produce honey for storage.
- Mason bees are significantly more effective pollinators than honey bees or bumblebees
Since mason bees do not have a colony to support like honey bees, all the pollen they collect can be used for pollination and does not need to be brought back to the hive. They also have more scruffy hair on their bodies which causes them to pick up lots of transferable pollen as they travel from flower to flower. Their hair is dry (compared to honey bee’s “wet carry” by mixing saliva and pollen into a paste), so the pollen easily falls off between blossoms. They will flop on flowers so that the pollen sticks all over her body instead of just her legs.
A single mason bee visits 20,000+ blossoms per day. Believe it or not, just six mason bees can pollinate an entire tree! It would take over 350 honey bees to pollinate the same tree.
- Mason bees are one of the first pollinators to emerge in the springtime
The early bee gets the pollen! Mason bees are early risers and emerge in early spring when temperatures are still cool, way before honey bees become active for the season. They can tolerate temperatures as cold as 55 degrees, so they will appear beginning in late February to early April.
Typically, this is when fruit trees are starting to bloom, so the increased pollination done by mason bees during this time significantly improves the yield of fruit trees and increases both the quality and quantity of flowering plants, herbs, and crops.
- Mason bees are gentle and easy to raise
Mason bees are non-aggressive and very rarely sting since they have no honey or colony to protect, making them an excellent option for households with pets or children. Compared to honey bees, there is a very low-cost investment in raising mason bees as the necessary supplies are inexpensive and come in various sizes. They require a nesting area (like this mason bee habitat), some nearby mud/clay, and a pollen source such as flowers, trees, plants, or flowering vegetables.
Mason bees typically prefer their nests to be about 300 feet away from the most populated area of flowers, whereas honeybees will forage up to two miles away! This shorter range helps beekeepers retain more control over where the pollination happens.
Interested in planting a garden this spring to support mason bees, honey bees, and other essential pollinators? We have tips and tricks to cultivating the ultimate bee garden!