Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Blue Orchard Bee Nests

With honey bees and many other pollinators declining in numbers, it is important to protect and expand their populations. By pollinating flowering plants, these creatures are quietly helping provide food for livestock, wildlife, and humans. The blue orchard bee, which is also known as the mason bee, is a native bee of North America. These gentle, solitary pollinators can be attracted by providing them with suitable nests. The natural nests of the blue orchard bee are abandoned tunnels bored in dead trees by beetles The blue orchard bee also nests in the hollow centers of pithy stemmed plants like swamp mallow. Both of these nesting habitats are often destroyed as humans clear dead trees and mow stands of weedy plants. Nesting tubes to accommodate the blue orchard bee can be easily built. Cut sections of bamboo cane at the joints and wire the pieces together in bundles with the open ends facing the same direction. These bundles of tubes, shown in the photo, can be placed in a protected place, such as under the eaves of a carport or building.

The blue orchard bee collects nectar and pollen from flowers and deposits it inside a tube. Next, she lays an egg in the tube and seals it with mud. The bee continues depositing eggs, each furnished with nectar and pollen for food, in the tubes. A six-inch tube will hold five or six eggs, each separated by a seal of mud. Like the honey bee, the blue orchard bee determines the sex of the offspring by laying a fertilized egg to become a female or by laying an infertile egg to become a male. The blue orchard bee is solitary; each female lays her own eggs. There is no sharing of egg-laying responsibility as there is in the honey bee colony where a queen lays all eggs. The blue orchard bees lay their eggs in the spring, and the offspring emerge in the spring of the following year.

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