Blue Mason (Osmia lignaria) or Orchard bees who have previously been all-but-ignored by the general public have recently enjoyed a newfound popularity. And why shouldn’t they? The non-aggressive little pollinators are not only top-notch pollinators, but they’re also some of the friendliest bees anywhere. Mason bees are docile by nature and the females are the only gender that has a stinger — and she isn’t very interested in using it.
Part of their relaxed demeanor may be due to the fact that they don’t make honey. In fact, they’re quite solitary and don’t even live in hives. With no hive dripping with the sweet stuff, there’s not a whole lot to protect. As an educator, I feel very comfortable letting kids get up-close-and-personal with these attractive little fellows. Kids enjoy watching insects as they go about their insect lives and bees can be especially fascinating.
These native bees live all over the United States and throughout Southern Canada. Orchard Mason bees are 1/3 of an inch long, blue-black in color, and have a metallic sheen to them. They have two pairs of wings and the boys are smaller than the girls and have a hairy-white face. While you may have seen them buzzing around flowers over the years — you may not have recognized them as bees. They tend to look more fly-like than bee-like.
There are a number of things that make Blue Mason bees stand-out both for home orchards as well as commercial types. The first thing is that these bees pollinate earlier in the season. They’re early spring pollinators and will fly around doing the pollination dance in cooler temperatures while honey bees hang out in their hives waiting for warmer weather. This makes Mason bees ideal pollinators for early blooming fruit trees.
In fact, they’re most attracted to the stone fruits such as cherries, plums, and peaches. But are great for apples and nearly everything else. The fact that the pollen is collected all over the mason bee’s hairy little bodies is another reason that they’re such effective pollinators.
If you’re considering purchasing (or attracting) mason bees for your home garden or orchard, you’ll want to provide them with a special mason bee house of straws where the female can deposit her eggs for next year’s bee population. The native mason bees around your home may or may not have an acceptable place to call home, so you’ll want to provide them with one.
Why are they called “mason” bees? Well, when the female lays her eggs in a straw (or another cavity in nature) she collects some mud and makes a wall at the back of the straw. Then she flies off to gather pollen and nectar and makes them into a little “loaf.” This loaf is placed onto the straw and an egg is laid on the pollen-nectar loaf. She makes individual cells by partitioning off the egg and pollen with another mud wall. After the straw is filled, she makes a final mud plug to protect her future kids that sleep inside. “Mason” seems to fit this industrious little bee.
While I’ve been going on and on about the spring Blue Mason Bees, it’s interesting to note that there are over 125 different species of mason bees out there just waiting to be invited into your yard or garden. So enthralled was I to learn about these endearing dudes that I decided that I had to have my own little colony at my home.
*If you or a child is allergic to bee stings, take the same precautions that you would with any bee. Sweet-natured mason bees do very little stinging, however, the potential is there.