The amazing blue orchard mason bee
Do you love fruit?
Then you love the 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.
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.
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