Today was a wonderfully warm and sunny day, which felt especially welcome after the two weeks of rain and wind we’d had previously. And right on schedule, the mason bees began to emerge.
We have a tall wooden shelving unit on our veranda, the kind with pre-drilled holes so that you can move the shelves to whichever height you want. Those holes, combined with the sheltered location and the daily sun exposure, make it a perfect habitat for red mason bees (Osmia rufa).
These are possibly the cutest bees in existence.
They have fuzzy rufous-colored abdomens, little white “headlights” on their foreheads, and are only a few millimeters long. The males emerge first, thanks to the mama bee’s strategic family planning, and hang around the colony waiting for the females. As soon as the larger females emerge, they’re swept up in the mating dance. Males don’t live too long after that, but the females last quite a bit longer as they gather pollen and nectar, and prepare for the next generation.
Which means that in a few more weeks, my kitchen veranda will be swarming with female mason bees returning from their foraging to pack a little ball of pollen-mixed-with-nectar into a hole, lay an egg by it, and then seal off the cell with mud. Each drilled hole will have several cells, with female eggs in the back and male eggs in the front (clever, no?).
Right now, things are quiet with a little male bee popping out every half hour or so. They have to chew their way through the mud plug mama bee protected them with, so by the time they emerge, they’re pretty tired. Generally they make a graceless plop onto the veranda, where they spend a few minutes recovering before flying off.
The problem is that our cats love tired, plopped mason bees. So I spent much of my afternoon today on lifeguard duty, rescuing bees from playful cat paws and holding them up in the sun to speed their recovery. They’re so dang cute that I’m always a little sorry when they fly off. But it feels good to know I gave them a headstart. Gotta keep those boys in good shape for the mating dance to come.