The soft morning rain slowed to a gentle mist as the big blue truck eased to side of the road. The green landscape is peppered with little blue pops of chicory bloom. The marshland bustles with hidden life. The ducks are navigating the current just beyond that sea of cattails. Within the cattail red-winged blackbirds continue to call as they gather twigs to refresh their nests. The next sounds that I hear is the deep droning of bumblebees playing in the Swamp Rose. We’re getting close to then of their season and the bees are frantically trying to collect the last of the rose pollen. Then I noticed movement in the nearby chicory blossoms. Sometimes very small. Something that looks like a flying gemstone. The metallic green colors and pollen packs on its legs told me it’s a mason bee. Sadly, the pollen it collects does not become honey. Instead of honey the mason bee makes little pollen cakes.
I’m pretty new to mason bees. I knew that they existed and that in some parts of the world they are the main pollinators. I also knew that they are among the most gentle bees in the world. Only the female mason bee has a stinger and even then you pretty much have to force them to sting.
Unlike honey bees the mason bees do not live in a hive. They will form colonies but they don’t have a collective. Instead they are solitary.
Mason bees nest in tubes and cap each cell of the tube with a mud brick. This of course is how they got their name. Similar to the mud dauber wasps nests each cell in the tube will contain a single egg and a pollen cake. The young will have to break out of the cell in order to survive. But unlike the mud dauber wasps the mason bee does not construct it’s own tube. Instead it’s opportunistic. It will take advantage of the holes left behind by wood boring beetles or a crevice in the rocks and so forth. In cultures that traditionally rely on the mason bee for crop production blocks of wood are drilled with several holes to give them a place to nest. A quick search on Pinterest show just how artistic and diverse the mason bee habits are created. They are also a wide variety of mason bee subspecies and I am honestly unsure of which kind is in the feature image. I do know that prior to European honeybees being brought into North America that major amount Native American horticulture would have relied on bumblebees and Mason bees. ( contrary to the movies Native Americans in pre-columbian times were not strictly hunter gatherers. )
During the colony collapse disorder a few years ago I noticed a sharp rise in native bees pollinating the wildflowers near my home.
I followed the little green bee from flower to flower snapping photos and trying to catch her in just the right spot. When she finally allowed herself to be caught in the lens I moved off and gave her space to complete her daily duty of making pollen cakes for her babies.
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