Most people have heard of honeybees because they make honey, and pollinate a lot of our food plants. The honeybee is a social insect. That doesn’t mean they have parties all the time – it means they live and work together to support the entire hive, which can number in the tens of thousands.

Not all bees are social, but they can still be great pollinators. For example, the orchard mason bee gets its name for two reasons. The mason part is because it uses mud to make its nest – sort of like a human mason builds with cement.

Apple orchardThe orchard part is because it’s known as a good pollinator of fruit trees. These bees will also come to wildflowers when fruit trees are not in bloom. Orchard mason bees are very calm, and will not sting unless they are handled roughly or get caught in someone’s clothes.

Honeybee Hive It turns out that the female likes to lay her egg in a small hole, usually in wood. The hole needs to be a little wider than her body, about 1/4 – 3/8 of an inch, and several inches deep. To start she gets some mud and puts it in the bottom of the hole. Then she brings in some pollen and nectar, about 15-20 loads as food for the bee as it grows in the nest. She lays an egg, seals it in with a thin layer of mud, and starts over again – pollen and nectar, lay an egg, seal with mud – until the hole is filled with her eggs and their meals. Then she covers the entrance to the hole with a thick plug of mud.

The egg becomes a larva, eats its food, spins a cocoon, turns into a pupa, and emerges from the cocoon all inside the mud nest. In fact, the adult stays there all winter. Although that may seem a little stuffy to us humans, the adult bee doesn’t mind, and chews its way through the mud in the spring, ready to start its life cycle again.

The Mason Bee