Native Mason Bee Motels/Hotels/Condos

Mason Bee at nest; img_0508_1_3_crop-bee; John Holbrook, MissoulaNative Mason Bees

by Catherine Haug

A wood-nesting wild bee native to the Pacific Northwest and western Montana, mason bees are gentle, non-aggressive, gregarious, busy, and quite productive.  Because they don’t have a hive to defend, they are very docile, and sting only if squeezed; but be wary if you are allergic to bee stings.

Mason Bees are also more efficient pollinators than European Honey Bees.  It takes fewer than 500 Mason Bees to pollinate an acre of fruit trees – to get that same result with Honey Bees requires up to 120,000 bees! (from a Washington State University pdf file).

Attract these bees to your yard by providing bee houses, and abundant blooming plants (preferably native).  Learn more at ESP’s Earth Day Gathering, “Pollinators and Their Habitat,” April 22, 2009, 7 PM at Clementine’s in Bigfork.

Photo Story of Mason Bee Motels, from John Holbrook

Bee Hotel img_0541, John HolbrookJohn Holbrook, from Missoula, sent these photos of his bee motels.  Every year he offers a few as premiums when people pledge to support Montana Public Radio.  Fran met him last week when she went to claim her prize. We’ll all get a chance to meet him at our Earth Day Gathering, where he will demonstrate how to make and care for a bee motel!

The first photo (above) is a large bee hotel or condo, made from laminated wood beam scrap.

Bee Hotel--emerging bee; img_0473; John Holbrook, MissoulaThe designs made by the blue tape help the adult bees find their own nest after foraging.  Some sections of tape also block entry to particular holes reserved for later use.

Here (left) is an adult mason bee emerging from its nest. Note the relative size of the bee hotel compared with the coffee cup.


Dormant Bee Hotel (2008); img_2623; John Holbrook, MissoulaThis next image is of two bee hotel blocks built in 2008, with dormant nests.  The bees plug their nests with mud (this is why they are called “mason” bees).  The dormant nests are kept in a cool, quiet place over the winter, then set out in late April for the adults to develop.

 Bee Hotel, opened March'09; img_2626; John Holbrook, MissoulaThe last photo is one of the above blocks, opened for inspection.  Look at all the bees inside!

John says this image shows a “block opened between a couple of plates with bee cocoons and mud walls, pollen, fras (bee waste).  The cocoons are very easy to remove and work with …  Individual bees, females and males, still in their cocoons, are washed, rinsed, disinfected for pollen mites, dried, then candled to pick out parasites or underdeveloped dead larvae.”

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