It’s April, and the air is warm, and that means…mason bee season!
A female red mason bee (Osmia rufa) carrying a mud ball.
I wrote about my mason bee colony last March, when the boys were popping out. We’re well past that time of year now, and it’s the ladies’ time. They’ve done their mating dance and are now focusing on setting up the next generation. Since I have more bees this year than last year, this means a constant stream of female bees in and out of the nesting holes, which just happen to be the pre-drilled shelving holes in our wooden storage unit.
I normally sit next to the unit and use the first shelf as a handy spot for my drink while I work on my laptop. At any given moment there is likely to be a bee zipping past my face, but since mason bees are both gentle and very preoccupied (must pack that nesting hole!), their close flybys are cute rather than worrying.
Yesterday, though, I worried. Because mason bees are also a little klutzy, and they tend to bonk into things and fall. And what they bonked into yesterday was my iced tea. I heard the first bonk, because hitting a glass sounds different than hitting wood, and looked over to see a bee struggling in the cold tea. I fished her out with a finger and put her on the warm bricks of the veranda, but she was no longer moving. I wondered if the tannic acid of the tea could have killed her that quickly — she wasn’t in the drink for more than ten seconds.
Fortunately I had a bit of paper towel nearby, so I gently laid a corner of it on her abdomen. It instantly wicked a surprising amount of water off the little bee, and she weakly tipped over a bit and moved a leg. I shifted to a dry spot on the paper towel and wicked off more water, this time from her whole body. When I pulled the towel away, she buzzed her wings, releasing a fine spray of droplets that scattered on the brick around her. At that point she was on the road to recovery, grooming her antennae and legs, and buzzing her wings a few more times until she’d gotten sufficiently warmed up again. Then, zip! Off she went.
Not ten minutes later I found another bee in my drink. This one was motionless, so I’m not sure how long she’d been in there. I fished her out and applied paper towel/warm brick first aid. The first two passes with the paper towel produced no movement, and I thought she really was dead, but after the third one, she began to move. Within five minutes she was in the air again.
Guess I can’t use the shelf for my drinks anymore; at least, not until the mason bees have completed their task. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy their company. They really are the sweetest bees, and they’re doing a great job of pollinating all of my veranda flowers.
(Photo from Nature Conservation Imaging, by Jeremy Early.)