Three years ago I was introduced to mason bees at a local flower and garden nursery. I had never heard of a mason bee and was fascinated. They looked like a glimmery mermaid with their iridescent sheen and didn’t look like a bee at all, but resembled a housefly. At the time my husband was talking about getting a beehive for our yard, but with all the playdates we had at our house I didn’t want to risk anyone getting stung. Plus, our daughter was terrified of bees. She would freak out anytime one buzzed anywhere near her. The more I listened, the more I learned. They are called solitary bees because they don’t have a hive and work alone. Every female is a “queen” who lays eggs and raises offspring on their own. This means they don’t need to protect a hive and are non-aggressive, which means they don’t sting. A bee that doesn’t sting!! Amazing!! Now my daughter was interested too.
I learned that their mandibles aren’t strong enough to cut into wood, which my husband would be happy to hear so they won’t cut holes in our house, instead they use them to cut soft mud to plug their holes. In nature they use holes made by woodpeckers, beetles or hollow stems of plants.
My daughter and I were able to hold one of the cocoons and inside was a sleeping mason bee ready to emerge in spring when the weather gets to be about 55 degrees. I didn’t realize mason bee babies start off as a larvae, then weave their own silken cocoon to slumber over winter and grow into a full sized bee. They are like a caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly. Fascinating!
Ok. If all this isn’t mind-blowing… just wait. Solitary bees are known as belly floppers! Isn’t that cute? Honeybees collect pollen on their back legs and solitary bees belly flop onto the flower and collect pollen all over their bodies, which enables them to pollinate 95% of the flowers they land on and they pollinate over 2,000 flowers a day. That’s a busy bee!
Hmmm… so they don’t sting, they’ll pollinate my yard, my kids can learn about bees and not be afraid?? I’m in!! I bought my first mason bee kit from Rent Mason Bees three years ago and have been a host every year since.
My kids LOVE watching the bees come in and out of their nesting blocks. We printed the mason bee journal and worksheets that they have on their website and the kids kept a log on the mason bee activity. Every day they would report how many holes had been plugged and my son’s job was to water the clay. He would use a watering can and a stick to make sure the mud stayed muddy. He loved it! My daughter’s curiosity peaked and she squealed in delight whenever she would see one. “They’re so cute and fluffy.” Which she says about every little animal she thinks is cute. But she’s right, these little bees are adorable and we could stand right next to the mason bee house and watch them go in and out. They were busy little bees and became a daily ritual to search for them in the yard and watch their activity.
The best part is I don’t have to worry about harvesting and cleaning the cocoons or nesting block in the fall, I just mail them back to Rent Mason Bees and they do all of that for me. Whew! That’s a relief!
Now I’m a huge fan of mason bees and love telling all my friends and family about them. They are my go-to gift to give anyone who is a gardener or a parent, which is just about everyone I know.
Spring is coming soon. I hope you get to experience seeing these cute and fluffy mermaid bees in your backyard!
(This story is contributed by one of our Rent Mason Bee hosts, Thyra McKelvie. Photo was taken by her 9 year old daughter.)