The mason bees are emerging!

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.

Red mason bee

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.

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in biology, life. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The mason bees are emerging!

  1. Lisa Shaw says:

    Your compassion and regard for the smaller life forms on this planet never ceases to amaze me.

  2. Ana says:

    I may be biased, but I think the mining bees we get here are just as cute. 🙂 It’s really sweet that you’ve protected them from the cats, I suspect I’d be too afraid to get stung to pick them up.

    • Power Wench says:

      Ana, no need to worry about mason bees stinging – they are so gentle they don’t sting. I’m not even sure they can.

      • oregon expat says:

        Indeed, the male has no stinger and the female’s is tiny. On top of that, the female will only sting if handled very roughly (like, rolled between one’s fingers). Letting one walk onto your finger doesn’t come close.

        I haven’t seen mining bees! [adds to list]

        • Ana says:

          Just look for perfectly round holes on the ground, surrounded by a pile of fine dirt. They’re generally about the size of a brad’s head, some even a bit smaller (I’ve seen some of their holes in the dirt between cobblestones). I haven’t seen any yet this year, maybe it’s still too wet for them to emerge.

      • Ana says:

        I got a wasp caught in my hair when I was a kid, and even though I’m not all that phobic – I have no problem being in the same space as a bee or a wasp – I’m not all that comfortable with the idea of actually touching them. But it is nice to know they’re not likely to sting. 🙂

  3. Cathy White says:

    I love bees, and have a very bee friendly garden. Most unusual are the tree bees, never see them but they hum so loud at times it drowns everything else out. I wish my cat would stick to the small stuff, today it was a jackdaw! Entered, with assistance, through the cat flap, exited out the front door. Had a heck of a tale to tell it’s mates.

  4. Ana_ñ says:

    Lovely explanation!

    Are you telling about the birds and the bees? It amuses me because we don’t use in Spanish this English idiom.

  5. Cathy White says:

    Catbib, interesting… But no 🙂 actually, I think that might be quite dangerous for a cat that that goes hither and thither, over stone walls and through bracken and bramble. I’ll continue to rescue our feathered friends.

    • oregon expat says:

      A friend of mine has used a Catbib with her highly predatory cat for years now, and hers is also a cat that goes over hill and dale. There has never been an issue with getting caught on something. She feeds birds by the kazillion and the death toll dropped significantly after she introduced the Catbib. Her cat was pretty irked about that THING attached to his collar for a few days, but then adapted and now it only slows him down juuuust enough to give the fauna a chance. These days he understands that if he wants to go out, he has to wait for Mom to attach the bib first. Then he’s off like a shot.

  6. M. says:

    How interesting coincidence. Here is your entry about mason bees and the same day I get a mail asking if I wish an artificial “home” with a bunch of them sent to my garden :). Yes, there is an ongoing project to help mason bees be as common as they used to be and everybody can take a part in it. But this year our spring is very late, not good for any animals.

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