A housing crunch

Guess who found the bookcases in our office?

The mason bees.

I first noticed when I went to the office to pull out a reference book, and found the telltale signs of excavation: little wood chips on the shelf. But it was night then, so there were no bees around, and I thought perhaps I was just being fanciful. Because why would the mason bees want to nest inside our flat?

The next day, though, I heard the buzzing and went to check it out. Sure enough…

Bee excavating

…there was a bee happily excavating.

Here’s a closer look:

Bee excavating closeup

“Well, maybe it’s just one bee,” I thought. Nope. It’s at least half a dozen. I sat at my desk that afternoon to work on my laptop and monitor the situation, and a stately parade of bees moved past, in and out of the open veranda door. They seem quite enamored of the bookcases, even though the holes are few and far between.

And it’s not just house hunting, either — they’re settling in. This little lady is backed into her nest hole and laying an egg.

Bee egg

This discovery led to a small crisis of indecision on my part, namely: should I tell my wife? She’s normally tolerant of my love of creepy crawlies, and even finds it cute much of the time, but it was possible this might cross the line.

It did. “They’re WHAT?” she said when I told her. “No no no.”

But then I showed her this:

Bee hole sealed

…which is a tidily sealed, completed nest burrow. That burrow is the culmination of a female bee’s short adult life, spent madly gathering nectar for food and mud for nesting, in order to seal her eggs in with all that they need to survive until next spring’s emergence. What are we going to do, drill it out?

“Okay, we have to either make or buy them a better home,” she said. I’m in total agreement. My little colony is exponentially larger this year — it seems to have reached a critical mass all of a sudden — and apparently we have a bit of a housing crunch. Nothing to do but offer them more space, and an alternative to our bookcases.

Now the big question is whether or not these burrows will be successful. Nest location is critical, requiring direct sunlight and/or sufficient warmth at the right part of spring to “wake” the pupated larvae and induce them to hatch out and then dig out. These shelves get direct sunlight in the winter, not the spring. I’m worried for the little proto-bees inside.

But I guess we’ll see what happens.

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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.
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7 Responses to A housing crunch

  1. Sigh. Oh, well… they are cute. A true science geek’s treasure.

    And now I’m worried that the “larvalets” (much better than larvae) will survive, damn it!

  2. Power Wench says:

    If my childhood experience with wintering over a moth cocoon in a jar in my bedroom is a fair indicator, it’s likely your bees will hatch, but too early. Apparently temperature affects developmental rate, so by spending the winter indoors in a heated bedroom my pet cocoon decided spring had arrived sometime in February and we had a Luna moth flying loose in the house.

    • oregon expat says:

      Our flat isn’t heated (like most Portuguese housing), so that’s one point in the bees’ favor. But I do use a space heater in there from time to time to make working at my desk bearable. Hm…

  3. Sandra Berry says:

    I didn’t know much about Mason bees until i read your blog last year and loved the survival story. As you know our bees sting. I let clover grow in my lawn so going barefoot while clover is in bloom isn’t a good idea. Most of my shrubs have flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds. I don’t use pesticides and I’ve never been stung. I think the bees know they are welcome and appreciated!

    • oregon expat says:

      Some of our bees sting, too, as my cat discovered when she tried to eat one. (Poor thing. After that she developed the ability to distinguish between flies and bees by wing sound. Bees are left alone. Flies are hunted ruthlessly.) We have honeybees, bumblebees, and carpenter bees along with the mason bees.

      Kudos to you for your pesticide-free and critter-friendly yard! I’m in agreement with you; your bees know they are wanted.

  4. Cathy White says:

    I too love the saga of the mason bees. I hope they survive. My large wildlife reserve currently has 2 blackbird fledglings on my workshop shelf, 6 bluetit nest boxes all with chicks, and a bumblebee nest in a vole hole tunnelling under my hen house. There is a condominium of jackdaws in one tree, and a pair nesting at the top of a down pipe. I love spring

    • oregon expat says:

      I’m impressed with your reserve! (And really, really jealous about the nesting blue tits.) As for my bees…the number of sealed burrows is now up to nine. I’m going to be very bummed if they don’t make it next spring.

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