wild bees and native bees

Here comes the sun: a male mason bee sees the light

Newly emerged Osmia lignaria male

Inside: You can frequently find male mason bees, Osmia lignaria, hanging around near the nests of females.

Male mason bees emerge before the females

After being holed up for about ten months, this male mason bee (Osmia lignaria) pushed the mud plug out of his paper straw and luxuriated in the sunshine. Then, within twenty minutes, he was out of the house and sipping at the Siberian squill in the back garden.

Male mason bees always emerge first and have distinctive behavior. After a brief stretch, they sip some nectar and then find a warm place to rest—usually on a rock or on the sunny side of the house. They repeat this process over and over, sipping and resting, sipping and resting. Sounds like typical male behavior, right?

Look for pairs mating in the flowers

Once the females emerge, eating and mating replace eating and resting…at least that’s how it appears. Like most male bees other than honey bees, the males can mate many times, usually in the flowers or on the ground.

We can distinguish male mason bees from the females by their dense “moustache” and long antennae. They are also smaller than their female counterparts. The females have large mandibles and carry pollen in an abdominal scopa.

Because Osmia lignaria are particularly good at pollinating orchard crops, and because they glint blue in the sunshine, they are often called “blue orchard bees.” A perfect name.

My first flower, a Siberian squill. <em>Osmia lignaria</em> male
A newly emerged male Osmia lignaria sips nectar from Siberian squill. © Rusty Burlew.







  • What a lovely peek into the world of mason bees. Now I want a mason bee nest and Siberian squill to boot! Thank you, Rusty.

  • So Rusty,

    When should I put up my new paper straw and string-bean-can wild bee nests? Yesterday?

    Yakima, Wa

  • I hung my mason bee box on Saturday under an eve facing East. This is my first attempt at masons; I have honey bees, so was a bit worried when I opened the box that had been in the fridge since November and saw two cute mason bee faces looking at me! I put them in the top of the Knox Cellar Bee house and opened the little door slightly. The holes have straws. So, how am I doing so far? Do I need to put attractant in the straws? Do I need to make clay for the bees and if so when? So many books with so many ideas. Thanks!

    • Khakijo,

      You’re doing fine! You do not need to add attractant. The mason bees will look for suitable holes near to where they were hatched. Also, you no not need to make clay or mud for them unless your neighborhood is completely covered in pavement. If you have a garden, potted plants, or any bare areas at all, the bees will find these. If they are really dry, you can wet them with a hose once the females are out. They like using native materials, and it’s fun to see the different colors of mud they find. It’s like a mosaic, colorful and pretty.

  • Yes it is truly amazing where they find the clay for packing into their cells and using it as an end plug. I have had mason bees for quite a number of years and always re-dig a hole, about a foot deep and about a foot square. This size lets the bees fly in and out with eaze. Plus I have to dig about 8 ” into the organic layer to get to the clayee mineral layer. I also poke a few holes in the clay layer so that the mason bees have a starting point for mining the clay out. This year I was most surprised to see that they used a post hole for a fencing project. Of course the fencing project had to be put on hold until the bees were done. I must say though that in the Interior of BC soils are dry and gravelly. In locations such as this, mason bees will not thrive because of the lack of mud. The importance of mud is pivotal to the success of mason bees. Dig a hole, no matter what soils you have and add mud if there is no mineral layer.

    • The over 300 species of Osmia bees are widely distributed and incredibly diverse. Your local native species are well-adapted to whatever soil they evolved with. There is really no need to bring in either bees or soil. They are better off using natural materials.

  • Hi Rusty, I agree with you about not needing mud or bees in some areas because there are an assortment of these native bees in most areas. But if someone has a garden with fruit trees and has set out nesting tunnels for various size bees over a number of years- with the result of no bees, then it might be a good idea to go to the local garden center for some mason bees. These bees need mud, and without it, it will be an unsuccessful venture.

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