The Orchard Mason Bee is the common name of a nonsocial
native bee (Osmia lignaria ssp.) that pollinates our
spring fruit trees, flowers and vegetables. This gentle,
blue-black metallic bee does not live in hives. In nature it
nests within hollow stems, woodpecker drillings and insect
holes found in trees or wood. Sometimes there may be dense
collections of individual nest holes, but these bees neither
connect or share nests, nor help provision or protect each
others' young. Also, they are active for only a short period
of the year. They are not aggressive and one may observe them
at very close range without fear of being stung, which makes
them excellent for enhancing our yards and gardens. They add
beauty, activity and pollination to our plantings. However,
they do not produce honey.
About Orchard Mason
The female Orchard Mason Bee visits flowers to collect
pollen for its young. She forms a small ball of pollen and
nectar in the back of the nesting tube and lays an egg on the
ball. She then collects mud to form a cell partition and
repeats the pollen ball-egg laying process until she reaches
the mouth of the tube where she caps the end with mud.
Starting the life cycle in the spring, adult males emerge from
tubes first, but must wait for the later appearance of the
females in order to mate. This event often coincides with the
redbud (Cercis) or Pieris bloom. Females alone, begin
founding new nests in holes to make a row of 5-10 cells in
each nest. Females collect the pollen and nectar and lay eggs.
Their short foraging range is about 100 yards from the nest.
Activity continues 4-6 weeks and then adults die. During the
summer, larvae develop inside the nests, make cocoons, and
become new adults resting in the cells. With the onset of
fall, the adults become dormant as they go into hibernation.
These bees require some cold temperatures before spring in
order to break their dormancy.
This Bee Is Gentle
The orchard mason bee is
non-aggressive and will sting only if handled roughly or if it
should get trapped under clothing. It is less objectionable
than the honey bee as a pollinator in urban areas and should
be encouraged. Efforts are being made experimentally to
develop large populations of these bees to use as a supplement
to honey bees for fruit pollination, much as the alfalfa
leafcutting bee was developed for alfalfa seed