Honeybees tend to get all the attention when it comes to beneficial insects that help to pollinate our world. The sweet honey that they produce goes a long way in moving them up in the popularity contest. But did you know that there are over 4,000 bee species in North America?
Many of these bee species outshine the honeybee when it comes to effective pollination. The most well known perhaps is the mason bee. Below are 6 facts you may not have known about Mason bees.
- Mason bees are called mason bees because, in a sense, they do masonry work. The bees do not build wax comb as in the honey bee colony. Instead, the females look for small (8mm) tube-shaped holes around the size of a pencil. They create sections within the tube, first collecting pollen and placing it in the tube, then they lay an egg. Following this, they section it off with mud. Then they fill the next section with pollen, lay an egg and more mud. She repeats this pollen, egg, mud pattern until the tube is filled (about five to six eggs). A female will lay around 15 to 20 eggs in her lifetime.
- Mason bees are solitary bees, unlike the social honeybee that relies on a complicated relationship within the colony with each bee having specific jobs etc. The mason bee works alone. Each female is her own queen and worker. She mates with a male, lays her eggs and dies about 10 weeks later.
- Mason bees are some of the first bees to emerge in the spring. They can tolerate temperatures down to 55 degrees. For much of North America, this means that mason bees will be active beginning in late February to early April.
- Mason bees do not make honey. They eat pollen and nectar throughout their lives as they forage. There is no need to create stores of food as the adult bees die before the weather gets cold and the species overwinter as pupae. The pupae will emerge when the weather warms in the spring.
- Mason bees are excellent pollinators. This is mostly due to the lack of finesse that they demonstrate when it comes to landing on a flower. A honeybee will collect pollen on her body, mix it with saliva creating a paste and push it down into her pollen basket located on her legs. A mason bee, on the other hand, is more of a messy pollen gatherer. She lands willy-nilly on a flower spreading pollen everywhere. The pollen sticks all over her body like velcro and is more likely to be redistributed to another flower in need of fertilization. For pollination to occur, orchards need less mason bees per acre than they would honeybees. Mason bees have a 95% pollination rate, where honeybees have a 5% pollination rate.
- Mason bees make their nests about 300 feet from the best selection of flowers, whereas honeybees forage much further (up to two miles). This shorter range of forage gives the beekeeper more control as to where pollination occurs. You can set up a mason bee house near the trees/plants you wish to be pollinated and should have great success.