Caught in the act! This mason bee threesome was photographed by UK beekeeper Philippa Burgess. She got the shot a couple of years ago as the little tower of bees perched in her back garden for thirty minutes or more.
Although we don’t have this species in the states, these bees appear to be Osmia rufa, also known as the red mason bee, a very common in species in Europe. The female is both larger and hairier than the males; the males are more slender with unmistakably white faces.
As with other bees in the family Megachilidae, the male red mason emerges first and hangs around the nest area waiting for females to emerge. Males compete for females and may mate many times during their short lives.
As soon as the female mates, she begins to search for suitable nest locations, such as abandoned insect holes, cracks in wood, or hollow reeds. Once she chooses a home, she begins the process of collecting provisions—both nectar and pollen—and laying eggs. The female red mason uses mud to build partitions between the egg chambers and to seal the entrance to her nest.
These bees are active six to eight weeks in late spring. Once the eggs are laid, it takes about 15 weeks for the baby bee to become an adult. This adult bee, still in a cocoon, spends the remainder of the winter in a resting stage, and will not emerge until the following spring.
In this unusual photo, it appears that both males found the female at the same time. Soon, the males will move on looking for other mates, and the female will begin her life’s work.
Great catch, Philippa. Thanks so much for sharing!