Equal opportunity housing

It took me a while to find a name for this wasp, but according to my contacts at bugguide.net this creature belongs to the subfamily Eumeninae, in the family Vespidae. This group comprises the potter wasps and mason wasps—fitting appellations since this one built a nest right inside my mason bee condo.

At first I thought it was a parasitic wasp preparing to lay eggs inside a mason bee nest. But I watched carefully and noticed it was entering empty bamboo canes, not full ones. Then I saw it wall up the tubes with fresh mud. This particular wasp—or another dressed exactly the same—filled four tubes before she disappeared. So now I have bees and wasps all living under the same roof . . . equal opportunity housing.

Apparently, the members of this group are extremely difficult to identify down to genus. According to some sources, potter wasps are different from mason wasps, and I don’t know which one this is. With insect i.d., I’ve learned to be happy with anything I can get.

The potters and masons are solitary wasps that construct nests of mud or sometimes use the abandoned burrows of other wasps. Some species nest in cavities they find in wood. The female provisions her young with moth or beetle larvae, but the adult wasp feeds on nectar. The females can be seen foraging on flowers in summer and fall.



A new neighbor on the block. The adjacent bamboo canes are filled with mason bee nests. Photo © Rusty Burlew.


  • Rusty –

    My neighbor, with four new hives, has noticed small carpenter bees nesting in the outsides of some of her hive boxes. They don’t seem to bother the honey bees, but they ARE making holes in the expensive woodenware! We thought of filling the holes with Spackle, but didn’t know if that would be bad for the honey bees.

    Well – a human-made hive structure housing a honey bee colony is a small monoculture, right? Thinking of another neighbor’s giant catalpa bee tree, it must have multiple species crawling in and around it besides the honey bees, doesn’t it? And then there are the friendly wolf spiders, exactly one to the outer cover of each of my 4 hives, which seem not to bother the bees and vice versa.

    So the question is, is it OK for a beehive to support a polyculture, the way your mason bee nest seems to be doing, as long as the different species are not competing for the same food or harming each other? And just reasoning from nature, which is forever trying to unravel monocultures – weeds in lawns, rats in cities – might it in some way be healthier?

    Or, the practical question, should she get rid of the carpenter bees, and what’s a safe way to do so? Thanks! Great image!

    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, KY

    • Nan,

      Consider this: We as humans have millions of different organisms living inside us. Some are neutral, some are beneficial, some could be deadly. But the point is they keep each other in check. A natural system (we used to call it the web of life) is made up of a variety of niches, with one or more organisms filling each one. So a spider here, some random beetle species there, a few miscellaneous ants, or grubs, or whatever are not going to hurt anything.

      Yes, carpenter bees can be a nuisance. They are the only type of bee that drills its own holes and they are good at it. But it is a shame to kill them. They are excellent pollinators and part of that web of life that is so necessary to survival of both nature and mankind.

      Spackle will not hurt the honey bees. It will dry hard as a rock very quickly. So spackle the holes. I don’t know if the hives are painted, but paint usually discourages carpenter bees. Why not fill the holes, paint if necessary, and provide some nice pieces of unfinished wood a little way off in a similar spot (in terms of sun and shade) and see if you can get them to move. Honestly, I don’t know if it will work, but it’s worth a try.

    • Patrick,

      This is new territory for me, so I’m not sure. I have photos of which ones they are. I will probably keep them separate, but just put them out in the spring. I will not open them to remove cocoons since I don’t know enough. They were about three weeks later than the mason bees, so they are definitely on a different schedule. If you have any advice, I’m listening.

    • Monica,

      Ten years later, I’m even more convinced that species diversity in bee housing is imperative. Since then, I have seen so many mason bee communities wiped out by diseases and parasites, that I think it’s cruel to try to raise one species in a pure culture. Now I think bee houses should be quite small—just a few tubes—and they should be widely spaced. This is closer to what they would have in nature, and each bee home has a better chance of evading whatever is out to get them.

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