The amazing blue orchard mason bee

Do you love fruit?

Then you love the blue orchard mason bee.

blue orchard mason bee

Blue orchard mason bees (Osmia lignaria) are part of a family of bees that are solitary --- meaning they live and breed individually instead of socially in a hive, like honeybees --- and use clay to make partitions to their nests and to seal the entrance. They got the orchard part of their name because they are extremely adept at pollinating fruit trees.

Although honeybees are often seen as the quintessential pollinator, native bees like mason bees are often more efficient with native crops. It's what they instinctively know how to do and what their bodies were created for. They are imperative pollinators for native North American fruit trees such as apples, plums, pears, peaches and almonds.

The reason that blue orchard mason bees pollinate fruit trees is not for the tree but for themselves and their young.

A blue orchard bee emerges from its nest in early spring and will search for a mate and then build a nest. In the wild, they will find hollow plant stems, crevices in firewood or holes from boring beetles in dead trees. They also will use nesting boxes or bee hotels, and blue orchard mason bees are also one type of solitary, native bee that is managed by farmers for its help in pollinating crops.

blue bee

Blue orchard mason bee

Males and females both visit fruit tree flowers to sip nectar, but females also gather pollen on the stiff hairs on the underside of the abdomen. These hairs may make them even better pollinators than honeybees, which only carry pollen in their pollen sacs on their hind legs. Pollination occurs as the mason bees move from flower to flower.

They mix pollen with nectar and place it in a cell in a nest, lay an egg in that cell that is now stocked with food and construct a mud wall to seal off the cell. A female mason bee can make one or more cells per day, usually arranged in a line inside of the hollow cavity in which she builds the nest.

The rest of the summer, metamorphosis takes place in each cell. The egg hatches, changes into the larval stage, when it eats the pollen ball, and then pupates. By the end of summer, it will be a full-grown adult but will remain dormant inside the nest until spring, when it hatches and starts the life cycle over again. Adult bees die off at the end of the nesting season.



Native Bees: Gentle and buzz-worthy

The mining bees in the Andrenidae family are incredibly gentle bees. According to “Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide” by Heather Holm, a park in Minneapolis is the home to thousands of Andrena nests each year, but most people have no idea that they are walking right over them. These bees are solitary Read More »

Read More

Native bees: These bees plastic-wrap their brood cells

Do you love blueberries? Then you should love the genus Colletes of native bees! These are one of several types of native bees that collect pollen from both highbush and lowbush blueberry flowers. Colletes validus has an elongated, narrow head that helps it fit into the tight flower opening where it eats nectar and collects pollen that will be transferred Read More »

Read More

Native bees: Mason bees are fantastic pollinators

Mason bees might be the best pollinators of all bees. Instead of wetting pollen and putting it in pollen sacs like honeybees, mason bees are covered in hair that collects pollen as they move around, searching for nectar. They can certainly carry a lot of pollen and significant pollinators for apple, cherry and plum trees. (Try Read More »

Read More

Native bees: The true sweat bees

We’ve all been outside drinking a pop at a picnic, when these little black-and-yellow creatures start flitting around and trying to get into the drink. “Sweat bees,” someone will say, shaking his or her head. “They’re so annoying.” Learning about bees as we put together the bee identification spinner for the new Pollinator Paradise addition, Read More »

Read More

Native bees: Exotic honeybees and their Apidae family

We’ve talked about the ways that native bees differ from honeybees and how great of pollinators they are, but how do you identify native bees? There are seven known families of bees worldwide, and six live in North America: Andrenidae, Apidae, Colletidae, Halictidae, Megachilidae and Melittidae. The family Stenotritidae only lives in Australia. With several Read More »

Read More

Six ways native bees differ from honeybees

People often use the term bee when talking about any kind of buzzing creature outside — it could be a honeybee, a bumble bee, a mason bee, a sweat bee or even a wasp or yellowjacket. However, it’s important to differentiate between the different kinds of bees. That may be difficult since the U.S. has Read More »

Read More

Mason bees might be better pollinators than honeybees!

If you didn’t have bad luck, you wouldn’t have any luck at all. Someone posted this about our osprey nest camera blowing down again this year. We feel kind of the same way. This poor camera has been blown down, hasn’t had enough sun, and when the camera did work last year the osprey chicks Read More »

Read More