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Mason bees fly to the rescue of failing orchards

By

February 7, 2010

A mason bee hard at work

A mason bee hard at work

Image Gallery (8 images)

Many readers would already be familiar with Colony Collapse Disorder and the mysterious worldwide disappearance of honeybees. Everything from mites to viruses to electromagnetic radiation are suspected as its cause and it is potentially disastrous for crops that rely on the bees for pollination. Well, on a small scale at least, help is on the way - some fruit growers in North America are now turning to the indigenous mason bee as an orchard-pollinator. Not only are mason bees not affected by CCD, but they're better at pollinating than honeybees, you need less of them, and they have a more laidback personality, meaning less of those nasty stings.

Mason bees occur naturally in the North American woodlands, where they are also known as blue orchard or Osmia bees. Because they're fast fliers, and remain active in poor weather, they do a better job at pollination than the introduced European honeybees. Instead of living in colonies with assigned roles, each mason bee lives an independent existence, and all the females lay eggs. That said, they are very gregarious by nature, and like to live cheek-by-jowl with one another. This characteristic makes it possible to sort of domesticate them, as a great number of bees will gladly cohabitate in a relatively small beehouse.

Yes, a beehouse. Because they don't form societies, or produce wax, mason bees don't live in hives. Instead, each bee finds an already-existent tubular hole (Such as a wormhole in a tree) and moves in. A beehouse can be pretty much anything that provides a bunch of these holes, such as a block of wood with holes drilled into it, or a collection of little paper tubes taped together. If you want something that's easy to clean and reuse, you can buy premade beehouses from companies such as Mason Bee Homes. These companies will also sell you mason bee cocoons, if you don't want to wait for the neighborhood bees to stumble across your beehouse on their own.

A beehouse from Mason Bee Homes

Females fill their tubular homes up with eggs during the summer, then cap the opening over with mud to protect them over the winter. Come spring, the young bees emerge, although many of them will head off to see the world. Unfortunately, this means it will take some time to establish a large local population, and is one of the reasons mason bees aren't more commonly used. Still, as long as Colony Collapse Disorder remains unchecked, it's nice to know they're out there.

All photos courtesy Gordon Cyr

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
6 Comments

Perhaps the above company should be retitled: Mason Bee Hotels, as the bees are temporary guests. In terms of Evolution, one would expect that as the Honey bees disappear, Mason bees should fill the gap, and become more ubiquitous. One question: how are the hatched larvae fed? If there is no colony, then presumably there are no worker bees. Do Mason bees produce honey? As far as Colony Collapse Disorder is concerned, it seems strange that the cause is still unknown. Are there no dead bees to examine?

windykites1
8th February, 2010 @ 08:26 am PST

@Windykites1: The filling of an environmental niche left behind by another declining specie is not evolution (whether micro- or not). It's just expansion of population by increased food source, etc. Micro-evolution implies actual change in expression of different body structures in response to environmental pressures (without a change in species, as defined genetically).

The dead bees of CCD have been necropsied and still no real, reproducible data to support one theory over another one, definitively.

matthew.rings
8th February, 2010 @ 05:57 pm PST

we're only losing bees because farmers (MONSANTO cronies) insist on using insecticides. instead, we should use natural solutions as we use ladybugs for the aphids in our roses.

dariusvons
9th February, 2010 @ 04:54 pm PST

matthew.rings, thanks for pointing out my error re: Evolution. I do not believe in evolution. Just to take an example, why would a bee's eye develop from a single light receptor to the multi-faceted eye we see today? Why aren't our eyes like that?

windykites1
22nd February, 2010 @ 06:42 am PST

Great Post thank you,

thought you might enjoy my bee myth machinima film



Blessed Bee

elf ~

Celestial Elf
25th March, 2011 @ 12:59 pm PDT

@windykites1

why would a bee's eye develop from a single light receptor to the multi-faceted eye we see today?---Answer: Why not?

Why aren't our eyes like that?---Answer: Because we didn't evolve that way.

KhakiandGreen
9th November, 2011 @ 06:28 pm PST
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