Mason Bees – A Quick Guide

Do mason bees produce honey?

Mason bees do not produce honey as they do not live in colonies.

The production of honey is the purpose of surviving the winter without needing to hibernate, a luxury only honey bees can afford. Mason bees collect pollen for their young, and pack it into a ball with the help of some nectar and saliva, and the mother bee will feed on nectar to keep her energized while she works. Since honey requires the use of many bees and cells to store it, mason bees have no reason to go through the arduous process, especially when their life cycles only last around six weeks. 


Do mason bees make hives?

The mason bee builds nests, but not a hive. The distinction between the two is that a hive consists of many bees living and working together, whereas nests are typically for bees that live in very few numbers, or are solitary. The mason bee nest usually consists of hollow reeds, stems, or existing holes in wood. They’ve even been observed to use old snail shells. The mother bee will lay an egg with a pollen ball and then seal off the chamber with mud, repeating the process until the cavity is full. 

Mason bee
Red mason bee -Geza [email protected]


Do mason bees sting and bite?

Known for how docile they are, mason bees rarely sting and are not known to bite. There is a myth that mason bees cannot sting, but this is not true; their stingers have very little venom and have a hard time penetrating human skin. Those who have been stung state that it feels more like a mosquito bite than a sting. There have never been any reported cases of an individual getting an allergic reaction from a mason bee sting. The bees only become defensive when they are handled aggressively or are accidentally crushed. 

As with all bee species, the males do not have stingers. The stinger only occurs in females because it is a modified ovipositor. 


Do mason bees swarm?

Mason bees do not swarm as they are solitary and do not travel far from their nests.

Swarms occur in two ways; one is a method of a colony seeking out a new home when theirs becomes too crowded, infested with disease, or the area completely lacks forage. The other is a defensive move in which bees or wasps detect their nest is under threat and will release attack pheromones to signal to the other bees that there is an intruder. Only honey bees will swarm to leave a hive; it is an evolutionary trait designed to keep as many bees alive as possible to continue on the generation. The defensive swarm can also occur in honey bees when their hive is attacked, but it is also common in wasps. 

Mason bees are solitary, as are the majority of bee species. They lack the numbers to defend a hive against a major attack, and abandoning their nest for a new home would do them little good; mason bees keep to a radius of about 100 meters from their nest, so even if they left they would not go very far. 

 
Do mason bees cause any damage to homes?

Mason bees do not damage homes as they use existing structures to nest in.

Some bee species like carpenter bees will burrow long channels into untreated wood to house their larvae, and the tunnels are reused and built deeper with each passing generation. This compromises the structural integrity of a building that such bees make their homes out of, but mason bees are not destructive. Instead of building a full nest, they will seek out pre-existing crevices to lay their eggs, and pack the cells with layers of mud. Although seeing mason bees crawl out of cracks in the siding of the house may appear concerning, the mason bee was not the one to create the crevice, and should not be blamed. 

In those cases, it is recommended to wait until the adult bees have hatched and vacated the crevice, and then seal it shut to prevent re-use. Mason bees may not cause an issue, but other burrowing species might dig deeper!


Do mason bees and honey bees get along?

Relationships between solitary bees and honey bees are complicated; they do not often create direct competition among one another, but the indirect competition can have a negative effect on solitary bees. If a solitary bee attempts to enter a honey bee hive in search of pollen or nectar, she will be swiftly driven out or even killed. Around their hives, honey bees can be very territorial and guard bees stand watch at the entrances to ensure only those from the hive may enter. 

Indirect competition occurs in the fields. A honey bee colony can consist of tens of thousands of bees, and when the foragers set out to collect food they can easily drive out other bees from sheer numbers alone. If a flower is occupied, a bee will simply move on to find one that isn’t occupied. This normally isn’t an issue if there are a few bees buzzing around the garden, but when the number of pollinators is in the thousands, a solitary bee could be hard-pressed to find an empty spot. As well, it takes time for a flower to refill the nectar glands, so even if a hungry solitary bee finally finds a vacant spot, there might be no food available at the moment. She might have to travel even further to find pollen and nectar, which is a real challenge for solitary bees that have a small foraging radius. 


Do mason bees pollinate?

Not only do mason bees pollinate, but they are also fantastic pollinators. Living close to her nest means she has not evolved with pollen baskets on her legs; something bees that travel long distances have to ensure they don’t lose any pollen on the flight back home. Instead, the mason bee has scopa, which are fine hairs on her stomach that pollen can latch on to. Honey bees will visit a flower and clean themselves up before moving on, so little pollen actually gets transferred from one plant to the next. Mason bees and their belly covered in scopa can pick up and drop off large amounts of pollen on the flowers as she leaps through the garden. 

Orchard mason bees are excellent for—as their name suggests—pollinating orchards. Cross-pollination among fruit trees is vital for abundant fruit crops. While honey bees are meticulous in that they will visit every flower on a branch before moving on, the mason bee will dive-bomb her way from tree to tree, cross-pollinating with incredible efficiency. 


Do mason bees have queens?

In a hive, the queen bee is usually much larger than the other bees and has an enlarged abdomen to store eggs for laying. In solitary bee species, there are no workers. In this sense, all female bees are technically queen bees, since they all lay eggs. Unlike most social bee species, the females will also do the tasks of worker bees, such as building the nest and collecting food. 


Do mason bees live throughout North America?

Mason bee species are from the genus Osmia, which includes about 200 species worldwide, primarily in the northern hemisphere. 140 of these species live in North America, especially in the west of the continent. Most Osmia species live in areas with below-freezing winters. 


Do mason bees make a buzzing sound?

The familiar sound of bees is produced not by their mouths, but from their wings. If you observe any species of bee in the garden, you’ll notice it only buzzes when in flight, or when batting its wings. The sound doesn’t have an intentional purpose; it is the product of roughly 230 flaps per second. Impressive!


How do mason bees mate?

As with many solitary bee species, the male mason bee has but one purpose: mate. Aside from not having a stinger, he also does not contribute to the building of the nest, collection of pollen or nectar, or any other brood-rearing task. The males emerge from their cocoons a few days before the females, and will wait for them to hatch. Females will mate with several males to maximize on genetic diversity, and then she will lay eggs. The mason bees are unique in that they can choose whether the egg they lay is fertilized; female eggs (fertilized) will be placed towards the back of the nest, and males (unfertilized) will be laid towards the front. Shortly after mating, the male mason bee will die; he only lives for around two weeks after emerging.