Mason Bee Edu Introduction

Mason Bee Edu Introduction

Bring Biology Alive with Mason Bee Edu!

Mason Bee Edu is an instructional resource for high school science educators who want to enrich their curriculum and foster a greater understanding of pollinator biology, the importance and role of solitary bees in food production and ecosystem services, and the need for conservation of solitary, wild bees. 

The program is designed to integrate with existing biology curricula and can be used as stand-alone modules or throughout the year in tandem with evolutionary biology, genetics, and ecology units. With Osmia (Mason Bees) as the focal bee, students learn:

    • bee phylogeny and diversity;
    • bee anatomy;
    • life cycle, development, and reproduction of solitary bees;
    • sex determination and allocation in mason bees;
    • the role of mason bees as pollinators;
    • foraging behavior in mason bees;
    • nesting and mating behavior in mason bees;
    • the current status of global bee decline; and
    • what you can do to help wild bees.

Designed with adaptation and inclusivity in mind, the modules can be used by teachers with access to outdoor gardens and by teachers who must bring nature into the classroom through video or other nature-based classroom tools.

Using Mason Bee Edu

Mason Bee Edu is built with flexibility in mind and can be molded to meet the needs of educators and their students. The program can be integrated with existing biology curricula and used as stand-alone modules or throughout the year during evolutionary biology, genetics, and ecology units. Modules can easily be scaled up or down for different grade and ability levels. 

Each module has three sections:

1. Background: An overview covering foundational knowledge on each subject necessary to teach the material and answer students' questions.This section is written with teachers in mind, but can also be adapted for background reading for students.

2. Activity: A hands-on or real-world data analysis activity designed to challenge students, promote critical thinking, and stimulate discussion.

  1. Each data analysis activity provides students with real-world data from bee biology publications.
  2. Model answers are provided to help guide the discussion. In general, there is no single "correct" answer.

3. Resources:

  1. Full resolution images from each module and activity
  2. Additional content for use in the classroom

Building (or purchasing) a bee hotel will allow students to interact with and observe these charismatic bees. There are many resources available online with instructions on building your own bee hotel. The Drivers of Bee Decline and What you can Do modules contain tips on building a bee hotel, and additional resources can be found on the Crown Bees Bee Knowledge page. Mason bees are active in the spring, so you will want to plan construction of your bee hotel early in the year.

Why Mason Bees?

Bees are fascinating creatures! They are diverse, intelligent, and adaptable. They build nests, forage for food, navigate using landmarks, defend their offspring against parasites and predators, and survive through the cold winter months. They are also exceptionally important pollinators. About 90% of flowering plants rely on insects for pollination and the vast majority of our fruits and vegetables rely, to some extent, on bees for pollination. While most people are familiar with social bees, such as honey bees and bumble bees, the vast majority of bees live a solitary life -- each female building her own nest, provisioning her own brood, and laying her own eggs. These “solitary bees” are the focus of Mason Bee Edu.

Using mason bees as our “model bee”, we developed a series of modules designed to help high-school teachers and their students learn more about bee biology, ecology, and conservation through background reading and activities, both in the classroom and outside.

Why mason bees?

  1. They are docile creatures that are unlikely to sting (unlike honey bees!)
  2. They are common and ubiquitous in most natural, rural, suburban, and even urban environments
  3. They exhibit a typical solitary bee life cycle, with a relatively short period of adult nesting, foraging and offspring production followed by an overwintering phase
  4. Adult activity occurs early in the year (March-June) while most high-school classrooms are still in session
  5. They are important pollinators of early spring flowering fruit trees, including apples, cherries, apricots, pears and almonds
  6. They will nest in “bee hotels” and other nesting materials or purchased online through various sources, including Crown Bees, which makes it possible to establish a local mason bee population at your school

We encourage you to discover the fascinating biology of solitary bees through Mason Bee Edu and we look forward to your feedback on the program.

About The Authors

Mark Buckner

Mark is a graduate student in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University, where he studies rare specialist bee conservation and bee-microbe interactions. He received his BS in Organismal Biology from the University of Montana, where he researched bacterial symbionts of periodical cicadas and has previously worked in cancer biology at the University of Colorado and environmental health at a county health department in Montana. He is passionate about fostering science literacy through accessible science communication and promoting science-informed policy. When not studying bee biology, you can often find Mark pursuing one of many outdoor activities, including hiking, climbing, or fly fishing.


Bryan Danforth

Bryan is a professor in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University. He teaches courses on Insect Biology as well as Insect Diversity and Evolution. Since his days as a graduate student at the University of Kansas, he has studied the biology, evolution, behavior, and ecology of solitary bees. In 2007 he discovered mason bees nesting in his chimney in Ithaca, NY and has been hooked on their biology, behavior, ecology, and conservation ever since. He recently co-authored a book on the biology of solitary bees: The Solitary Bees: Biology, Evolution, Conservation, which is available fromPrinceton University Press.

Bryan received his BS in Zoology from Duke University and his MS and PhD degrees from the University of Kansas. Following graduate school he had a post-doctoral position at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC and, shortly thereafter, an NSF postdoctoral position at Cornell University. He joined the faculty in 1996. He enjoys reading, bicycling, and spending time with his family in Ithaca, NY.


We would like to thank the members of our advisory committee, including NYS Master Teachers Vicki Tibbals, Mark Nelson, Nick Kirby, and Richard Garrett, as well as Don Haas and Robert Ross of the Museum of the Earth, for generously donating their time to provide input and guidance throughout the development of this program. We also thank Kim Lippke and Dave Hunter of Crown Bees for their support with program development and web hosting and the members of the Danforth Lab at Cornell University for their contributions throughout the process.

Mason Bee Edu was developed with the support of Cornell Agritech, the Extension and Outreach Graduate Assistant (EOA) program, and the Department of Entomology EOA Committee.

Mason Bee Edu Introduction