The Azalea and the Mason Bees

My azaleas are blooming and lighting up the yard with purple, and the largest of them has become a bee magnet.

It not only attracts honey bees,

it also attracts mason bees and I’m only now learning the difference.

My hubby put up a mason bee house a couple years ago under the eaves of our home.

We recently noticed bees flying around it and entering the holes. Actually, my husband noticed it. I was puzzled as to me they looked like flies.

In fact, they’re roughly the same size, but these native, solitary, insects are mason bees, expert cross pollinators, of the genus, Osmia.

They don’t have hives and they don’t make honey, but they do gather pollen, some say, more effectively than honey bees.

Here’s the story.

When the bees hatch in the spring they emerge males first, followed by females. After mating the males soon die and the female looks for a nest.

Then she collects pollen from shrubs and flowers and deposits it inside the narrow chamber. Once she has a sufficient nugget of pollen, she lays an egg on top, then follows up with a partition of mud to seal off the compartment – hence the name mason bee.

She does this repeatedly until the chamber is filled with eggs, then plugs the entrance to the tube.

Inside, the larva eats the pollen, then spins a cocoon and enters the pupal stage, maturing and hibernating through the winter. In spring the males exit the nest first, then females, and the cycle of life continues.

The mason bees that emerged from their house recently were greeted by this giant azalea.

Off to a good start.

~ Susanne

20 Comments on “The Azalea and the Mason Bees

  1. Very cool! I’ve seen those bee houses and always wondered how they worked… now I know! I’m tempted to see if I can get one for our house!

  2. Great photos of your masonry bees. All bees are wonderful and should be treasured before it’s too late!

  3. That azalea is a stunner, and I was fascinated to learn about the mason bees – that’s all new to me. Thank you for a post both beautiful and informative in equal measure!

  4. I learned about Mason Bees after moving to Norfolk and finding them using old screw-holes in the brickwork of the house. Your Azalea is beautiful. I wanted to buy one, but the man at the garden centre said they wouldn’t thrive in Beetley soil. It is not ‘acid’ enough, apparently.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Thanks, Pete. Azaleas and do really well here. This big one was here when we bought the house but I’ve planted many others and they all bloom heartily every year.

      I’d heard of Mason bees but never paid much attention till I saw them using the box this year. Amazing little bees, and terrific pollinators.

  5. As always gorgeous photos (love those bee close-ups) and again THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for getting the word out about Mason Bees! They are such diligent pollinators that every home with a garden should also have a Mason Bee house.

    • Thanks for your comment! The more I read about these little bees, the more impressed I was. They’re great pollinators, they’re gentle, and they don’t sting! 😊

  6. I love your azaleas! And I had never heard of Mason bees either. Interesting how the males emerge first after hatching. I immediately thought, what if the first egg laid was a male, and then there were females on top of it, he would have to crawl past all the females on his way out of that narrow tube. Amazing! 😳

    • Thanks! I loved learning about them! There was so much information, but one amazing fact was that the female eggs are laid first, then the males! How they know the difference is truly amazing! And the fact that they have their own little egg cells, walled off by mud is also incredible but true!

      • Oh wow! So the males are already near the top of the nest. That is absolutely incredible! Now I want to learn more about them too. Thanks for bringing our attention to one of God’s amazing creatures!

      • What I understood from my reading was that in each of the tubes, multiple eggs are laid, and the females are in the back so the males in front are first to emerge! Yes, another demonstration of God’s marvelous design!

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