Grow Your Own Bees!

12th May 2013
Well, spring certainly has arrived this last week or so, and the bees have been taking full advantage. One thing I'm particlary pleased about is the emergence of Red Mason Bees (Osmia bicornis) from my "bee hotel". I designed it last year and had around fifteen nests completed by Red Mason Bees and one by Osmia leaiana. The Red Mason Bees have been emerging, mating and starting new nests. There's a constant buzz of activity with males patrolling for females, and females bringing back pollen for the new nests.

I thought I'd try to "magnify" the activity, and produced this image. I set up my camera to one side of the "hotel"; focussed on the mid-section. For about a 10 minute period, I fired the shutter whenever a bee was near the midline and then produced a composite from a selection of shots, using Photoshop. The females are the larger ones and the males the ones with the white faces. Typically, there'd be two or three bees at the "hotel" at any one time.

Several nests have already been completed and I suspect that more bees are still to emerge from last year's nests. No activity from the Osmia leaiana nest yet, but this bee's "season" is a little later.

Here the "bee hotel" that I designed. There's a variety of drilled blocks, with the majority of holes 7mm or 8mm diameter. These are the holes that have been used most by the bees. There are also commercially-available paper "bee tubes", some bamboo stems and one block with holes in concrete. The bee-tubes, bamboo and concrete block were not used last year. At least one of the paper tubes have been used this year. I left the "hotel" out until November last year then put it away in the garage for the winter. I put it back out in March this year.

I managed to capture a male emerging from one of the nest holes. I had been watching activity, hoping to capture this. I could actually hear some faint buzzing/squeaking noises from inside the nest before it emerged. The bee used its mandibles to chew through the clay seal and then squeeze through. The males emerge first and then noisily patrol around waiting for the females. We also have an active nest inside the keyhole of our front door and that's been very busy too!

Here's a mating pair of Red Mason Bees. I've haven't witnessed this before. The female was from the "keyhole nest" that was completed last year and was "grabbed" by the male as she emerged. They dropped to the ground and stayed paired for several minutes. Fortunately, the camera was to hand.

I was surprised how quickly the females finished complete nests when the weather is warm and they can get lots of pollen trips completed in a day. This female took just a couple of days to finish her nest. The females forage for pollen and starting at the bottom of the hole, they produce a pile of pollen and then lay a single egg on it. That brood cell is then sealed with mud. They continue this activity until they reach the entrance to the hole which is again, sealed with mud. They then start another nest hole. Activity for Red Mason Bees is around April - June. They then die off. The new bees develop in the nests and emerge the following spring. The female never gets to see her offspring as the social bees (honeybees and bumblebees) do. That's why these belong to the "solitary" bees. The female in the image has just returned with t ball of mud, held in her mandibles. She uses her "horns" to help shape the mudwork.

It will be interesting to see how many nests get completed this year and if any bees other than Osmia use it. It would be lovely to see some Megachile leaf-cutter activity. I'll produce another Blog lost if anything interesting happens!


Photo comment By Amelia Bassiti: Amazing pictures! I did not realise the first picture was a composite and was imagining hordes of bees around the nest at the same time. I listened faithfully to my few filled bamboo sticks every morning but I did not see any bees emerge, I would love to see it. Perhaps next year. I used mainly 6-8 cm. bamboo but also some smaller and larger. Surprisingly the smaller and larger have been used and because of the relatively small sample I can't show a preference for size. The O.cornuta were the first to use it this year. Two weeks ago the O. bicornis have started to nest in it. I have also a potter wasp - Ancistrocerus auctus, I think. I thought it was a Nomada until it started to seal up one of the tubes with mud! Unfortuately I have Drosophilidae type fly, I suppose, Cacoxenus indagator lurking when the bees are there. The nest is home made and rests on a slice of tree trunk with bored holes. The Anthophora plumipes are using those holes, you can see their trails in some of the holes and I have got the females pictures. I eventually did get a good picture of a male with the hairs clearly visible. I am looking forward to seeing photographs of your Osmia leaiana. Amelia
Photo comment By Valère: I am a newbee in insect hotel but I really like the pictures.

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