wild bees and native bees

A garbage can for the mason bees

Anna Poladian-Prior 1

Animal lovers have a lot in common. It’s the cat’s blanket or the dog’s rug, so don’t touch it! The same goes for bee lovers. In this case, the mason bees requisitioned a garbage can for their personal use. And the former owner of the garbage can, Anna Poladian-Prior of Eldersburg, Maryland, issued a similar edict: Don’t move it!

The garbage can is actually one of those large plastic types with wheels that Anna uses for firewood. But the wheels contain small cavities that the local mason bees have taken a fancy to.

The pictures were taken on April 11, the same week I heard two other reports of mason bees overtaking the state of Maryland. Anna described the scene:

I’ve seen tons (I do mean a lot!) of native bees that look like these on the redbuds and their abdomens are clearly dusted with pollen—the tree looks like a moving cloud has descended upon it.

I have a homemade bee house with straws in a metal can set out for them, but this wheel is what they have used. Actually they use both wheels.

I see them approaching the wheels but I can’t get a good picture of them as they seem quite determined to get to the nest site. Another was exploring areas under the deck but wouldn’t settle down for her moment in the spotlight. Oh well.

I suspect these same bees used the folds in a pile of tarp a couple of years ago to build their homes. I felt awful when I decided to fold it up and out came all these pollen pellets. They also used the crease in a folded bag of peat moss.

With a little help from an entomologist friend, I learned that the bee shown here is either Osmia cornifrons or Osmia taurus. Apparently, the two species are hard to tell apart from a photograph.

Osmia cornifrons, also known as the horn-faced bee, was deliberately introduced into the US from Japan where it is used to pollinate apples. Osmia taurus, originally from East Asia, mysteriously appeared at about the same time. First seen in Maryland, Osmia taurus has since spread throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Both are excellent pollinators of early flowering trees. Like all Osmia bees, they are solitary cavity dwellers that carry pollen loads on their abdomens.

I love the pictures, Anna. Some of the best garbage can photos I’ve ever seen!

Honey Bee Suite

A garbage can for the mason bees.

Next to this mason bee is another just emerging. © Anna Poladian-Prior.

Bee inside garbage can wheel cavity

The back half of the same bee as she returns from the field loaded with pollen. © Anna Poladian-Prior.


  • Rusty –

    Thanks for the story and pix. I’m not that surprised. In my many years of working with Osmia lignaria I long ago figured out that the standard promotion of only one way to house them was way overstated. For me they’ve plugged up lawn mower parts, hoses, house siding, rolled up tarpaper, and the emergence boxes holding loose cocoons. They fill holes ranging from 1/4″ diameter to over 1/2″, including in substrates that sometimes poison them, and then add more mud behind and between the tunnel nests I offer them or even on the wall behind. Last year in grooved nest boards they packed solid mud into two perfect grooves meant for housing.

    So these days rather than just provide them with optimal housing (though I do), I also offer all sorts of whacky alternatives just to see what they will use. After all, standard issue 5/16″ diameter holes do not have a long standing in these bees’ life history. Now given the dismal soggy spring we are experiencing this year in Puget Sound, I’ll be lucky to avoid shortcomings, and the less optimal housing might be ignored. But I will record my efforts at pushing the limits, and make a note — or a blog — of my results.

    Bee well — Glen

  • I bought paper straws online and built mason bee suites this year too! Mostly they are still using the purchased bamboo reed structures. But they seem interested in the straws. I love mason bees.

  • I am so happy that the concerns about honey bees have made us better stewards of native bees. Thank you for posting this, Rusty. And thank you, also, for identifying the specific bee. I promptly went to my copy of The Bees In Your Backyard to read more.

      • Amen. I consider honeybees “Pollinator Poster Children.” When someone asks me about bees, and especially when I give someone honey, they pay the price of listening to me yammer on about native plants and native pollinators.

  • I grab a bunch of dry Phragmites reeds over in eastern WA when I’m hunting there in the fall. Cut them up on the table saw into 8-10″ lengths, bundle handfuls together with a couple circumferential strips of masking tape. They offer a good range of diameters for the mason bees and other natives that like such nesting material. If you want to harvest and clean the cocoons in the fall, the reeds crack easily in half with a knife engaging the end. I’ve had some sort of small black native bee as well as leafcutter bees join the mason bees in the reeds.

    • Cal,

      I think natural tubes like that are the best choice for cavity-nesting bees. It allows them to pick the size that is perfect for them and it encourages a diversity of species instead of a monoculture. I should probably pack a rifle and head east.

      • Nawww…take a pair of pruning shears. Much easier to cut the reeds with. I get mine in the Lower Crab Creek basin public land just on the east side of the Columbia near Vantage. Look for the tallest ones you can, as they’ll be largest in diameter.

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