Most people think of honey bees when someone says ‘bees’; the characteristic black and yellow striped bug. Mason bees are equally and perhaps even more important than honey bees as pollinators in our environment!
Fun fact: you can distinguish male mason bees because they have “beards”!
Mason bees are ground nesting bees native to North America. This means they like to live in holes in the ground, but also in trees, hollow branches (like bamboo), or other hollow cavities. They were named “mason” bees because of the way they make their houses- with mud, just like how masons stick bricks together. They are solitary bees and not dependent on a queen like honey bees. In the winter, they lay eggs in holes in the ground, each separated by a wall of mud.
Making homes for the bees
We can replicate the home of mason bees by rolling up tubes of paper, drilling holes into a log, or cutting up bamboo shoots! However, it is important to clean out the cocoons each winter. With an artificial home, it provides an easy location for infections and parasites to spread. Using rolls of paper is the easiest way to clean out the homes each year. The papers are pulled out with the cocoons in them, unrolled, and the cocoons are carefully taken out and put into a bleach solution. Inspect each cocoon for any holes which may indicate a parasitized cocoon. After cleaning, they can be kept in a jar in the fridge to mimic winter temperatures, so the bees do not hatch early. In the spring, put the cocoons in a box with a small hole so that the bees can hatch and fly out when they are ready!
A home built so that paper rolls can be inserted and cleaned out
A simple home with bamboo shoots and logs drilled with holes
A paper unrolled to reveal many cocoons!
Cleaned cocoons ready to be kept until spring
Fun fact: the smaller cocoons are male bees and the larger ones are female
You can always help in small ways by planting things pollinators love, such as:
– and… many types of fruit trees!
Sustain SU Ambassador – Farmers’ Market Team