Bees vs Honeybees
Native Mason bees have lived in America for millions of years. We call them Masons because they work
with mud to build and seal their nests. Honeybees were introduced by Europeans just 400 years ago - and we all love their honey. But lately,
honeybee numbers are much reduced through parasitic mites and mystery diseases that are wiping out their hives.
These ailments don't affect our native American bees. They do a grand job pollinating orchards and gardens, especially since they are active
in colder temperatures and their hairy bodies carry more of the pollen that fertilizes your blossoms. Though they won't give you honey, they won't
ever chase or sting you either - unless severely provoked. They're fun to watch as well!
Attracting Mason Bees
In the wild, Mason Bees build their mud sealed nests in natural tubes like reeds or holes in dead trees. Sometimes they'll make homes between wood shingles on houses and barns. (They do no damage - they just build their mud homes in sheltered cracks.)
Now extensive research by the US Department of Agriculture has proved that the Mason Bees' task is made much easier if we provide 6" paper-lined tubes 5/16" in diameter, that are somewhat weatherproof and contained in a protective shelter. The smooth tubes we humans can supply mean the female Mason has a lot less prep work to do on her nest - and she can channel that extra time and energy into laying more eggs.
Position Nest Kits firm and level in a sheltered sunny spot facing East or South, where it won't be disturbed. 6 to 8 feet high is a good height.
The Mason Bee Life Cycle
Those mud sealed tubes contain the whole future population of Masons, males and females. All of last year's adults have completed their lives by the end of the previous Spring. Each 6" tube contains 6 or 7 separate compartments, each with one egg and a food store pellet of pollen and nectar. In summer, the eggs hatch and the grubs feed. By September, they are transformed into adult bees that stay in their snug mud home until blossom time the following Spring.
Cleverly, the Mason Bee mothers have laid female eggs in the 4 or 5 most protected inner compartments - and just a couple of male eggs near the outside. The males chew their way out first into the warm Spring sunshine and eagerly await the coming out of the female debutantes.
Mating is over quickly and the females devote the rest of their short, busy lives to finding a next site, locating mud, making one cell at a time, provisioning it, laying one egg, sealing with mud - and on to the next one.
Because they are so docile, you can stand close to the tube and see the females going in frontwards with either mud or food pellets - then backwards in order to lay their eggs. Sometimes, they'll just sit on the front porch of their tube and visit in neighborly fashion. Though each female is in complete charge of her own house and nesting arrangements, they are quite gregarious and seem to like living in groups.
Changing Your Nesting Tubes
Try to provide fresh nesting tubes for your Mason Bees to replace tubes that have been used last year. This helps protect against a buildup of parasitic mites that can carry over in used tubes. Google Krombein's Mite to learn more. Unused tubes are still good to use.