LIFESTYLE, HABITAT & POLLINATION
Native bees are solitary but neighborly, hole-nesting bees that are easy-to-raise and superior pollinators. Raising our two favorite solitary bees, mason and leafcutter bees, is a part of the future of sustainable agricultural pollination.
Mason and leafcutter bees have several features that make them great pollinators for our gardens and orchards. They are solitary bees, which means that every female bee is fertile and it is her sole responsibility to gather food and provide protection for her eggs. Solitary bees are gentle bees because they are not interested in defending their nest. Instead, they are too busy mating, building their nests, and gathering nectar and pollen to feed their young. Even though each bee lives on its own, they are very friendly and gregarious, which means they are neighborly and enjoy living next to other solitary bees. Gregarious solitary bees have the perfect lifestyle needed for farm or orchard pollination.
Mason and leafcutter bees are hole-nesting bees that build nesting chambers for each of their eggs in pre-existing holes or cavities. Within each nesting chamber the egg hatches, develops, and forms a cocoon for over-winter hibernation. It’s easy for us to provide nesting houses for hole-nesting bees and to place their cocoons where they are needed. A nesting house provides the bees and their nesting holes with the protection they need from rain, wind, and when necessary, large predators.
A hole-nesting female bee chooses her nesting hole and marks it with her own unique scent. Using scents to mark their nesting holes is so important that even the name of mason bees’ genus, Osmia, means “odor” or “sense of smell”. Mason bees produce a slight citrus or lemon scent and female leafcutter bees also use scent to mark their nesting hole. Watching hole-nesting bees entering and exiting their nesting holes is a lot of fun, especially when a female enters the wrong nesting hole and tries again.
Beginning at the back of their chosen nesting hole, the female bee begins a cycle of building nesting chambers that are made up of food for the egg (a pollen and nectar loaf), an egg, and a protective layer of nest-building material. When the last nesting chamber is finished she moves forward and packs the last space with extra nest-building material. This extra-thick layer of protective mud, leaves or other materials is called a capped end and this is the part of the nesting hole that we can see. Looking at capped ends can help us know that bees are using the nesting holes.
Mason and leafcutter bees have a short flying range of 300 feet (100 meters) from their nesting house. Install a bee nesting house where you need pollination and you will know that they are busily gathering pollen nearby.
Our favorite bees are generalists that love a variety of flowers and this is an advantage for ensuring pollination of your garden, farm, or orchard. A key component of a good bee nesting site is the ongoing availability of pollen and nectar from flowers and blossoms. Bees benefit from a variety of flowers as each flower provides different nutrients.
Mason and leafcutter bees can be characterized as superior pollinators due to how they collect and carry pollen. All bees consume pollen as a source of protein, fat, and other nutrients and pollen is an important food source for developing bee larvae. A honey bee daintily lands on a blossom and carefully collects pollen onto specialized pockets on her rear legs, using saliva to wet and attach the pollen. Our solitary bees belly-flop onto blossoms collecting and carrying dry pollen all over their hairy bodies. Our female bees carry most of the pollen on their undersides, also known as their abdomen or belly, and this is why they tend to land belly-first. Dry pollen is loosely held on this large surface area of the bees’ undersides and the pollen easily falls on each flower visited. Back at the nesting hole, the female removes the pollen gathered and adds it to a pollen loaf, a mixture of pollen and nectar used to feed one of her young.
Our mason bees are one of the 130 mason bee species mason native to North America. We ensure that the mason bees you purchase have been raised in and acclimated to your region’s climate. Alfalfa leafcutter bees have become naturalized over time and can now be found across North America. Alfalfa leafcutter bees have been used in large alfalfa farms since around 1940 and backyard gardeners can now enjoy the pollination power of leafcutter bees for summer blossoming flowers, berries and vegetables.
A final interesting fact about all bees is their ability to decide on the sex of their offspring. A female bee will fertilize an egg to enable that egg to develop into a female bee. Eggs that are not fertilized will develop into male bees. Both mason and leafcutter bees protect their female offspring by fertilizing eggs that are at the interior of the nesting hole so that the female eggs are farthest away from the nesting hole opening. Male eggs will be laid near the front of the nesting hole and this ensures that male bees emerge first and are ready to mate when the female bees emerge.
All of these characteristics make mason and leafcutter bees a perfect choice for pollinating our backyard gardens, farms, and orchards. To learn what makes mason bees and leafcutter bees unique continue reading about our favorite spring and summer bees.