Sometimes I use the wrong word. Yesterday, when someone asked, “What’s a hatching box?” I felt sheepish. I should have written emergence box in my post on lovage. Here’s the question:
I planted some lovage, and I too thought the stems would make good nesting tubes. So now I must ask, what is a hatching box?Carin
hatching emergence box?
An emergence box is used for cavity-nesting bees such as mason bees and leafcutting bees. It is simply an empty box with a lid you can open. In the center of one side is a small hole, big enough for bees to pass through.
To understand the purpose of an emergence box, you need to look at the behavior of cavity-nesting bees.
Tubes and tunnels
Cavity-nesters are the bees that nest in holes bored into wood or in empty reeds and hollow stems. The female lays her eggs, one at a time, by starting at the back of the hollow space and working toward the opening. These bees usually partition the space between each egg.
In nature, these convenient nesting spaces don’t last very long. A tree with many cavities drilled by birds or beetles will eventually rot and fall. Reeds and hollow stems, such as raspberry canes or teasel stems, collapse after a season. This constant destruction of nesting sites means wild bees are always looking for new ones.
New sites are best
If the opportunity exists, cavity-nesters will nest in the same tunnel they emerged from. But if they use the same tunnels year after year, parasites, predators, and disease organisms multiply. Eventually, the nesting environment becomes so unhealthy that the baby bees can’t survive. But natural housing rots and falls apart, so it forces the bees to find new clean homes. Nature’s way works.
In the meantime, beekeepers offer these bees sturdy homes made of drilled wood, bamboo tubes, or other materials that can survive year after year. Predictably, the parasites, predators, and pathogens thrive. In fact, because of the lack of social distancing in beekeeper-provided housing, the pest populations can explode. After a few successful years, some keepers lose all their wild bees to things like parasitic wasps, pollen mites, molds, and fungi.
Enter the emergence box
With an emergence box, you can force your bees to use new tubes instead of the old ones. It works like this:
Bees prefer nesting tubes bathed in sunlight. They don’t like to go into dark places to look for a nesting place. Most won’t do it.
An emergence box takes advantage of this preference. Simply mount your fresh new housing and put the emergence box nearby with the hole facing the sun. Then put your cocoons—or even full tubes of cocoons—in the box. As the bees emerge within the dark box, they will see the dot of sunlight and fly outside for eating and mating.
But when it comes time to start nest building, they will not want to go into the dark interior of the box to find their old nesting tube. Instead, they (usually) select the shiny new tubes you have prepared for them.
I say “usually” because occasionally you will find a bee that insists on defeating your plans and nesting inside the dark box. There’s nothing you can do for these outliers; some kids are a mess from day one.
Designing an emergence box
Wooden boxes work best, but you can also use cardboard if the box won’t get wet. I like to use an empty honey super with an entrance hole drilled in one side. Then I add a bottom board and a lid.
Place your emergence box next to your nesting tubes, the closer the better. The single hole should face south or southeast and receive unobstructed sunshine. Once all the bees have emerged, you can remove the box.
Hatching is different
Larval bees hatch from eggs, but adult bees emerge from cocoons. Because you will fill your box with cocoons, the bees coming out will be adults. For that reason, the phrase “hatching box” is technically wrong and I should have said emergence box.
Honey Bee Suite