There are over 20,000 species of bees and 90 percent of them are solitary bees. Bees are critical pollinators to food and ecosystems and not many people know that one of nature’s best pollinators are solitary bees.
Unlike the social honeybees, solitary bees work alone, collect their own food, find their nests, and lay all of their own eggs. Solitary bees do not have a queen, do not live in a hive, and do not produce honey. Without the need to protect a queen and honey, solitary bees are gentle, friendly and non-aggressive, and don’t sting, so they are safe around kids and pets.
Why Are Solitary Bees Important to the Ecosystem?
Solitary bees are not picky pollinators. They will collect pollen and nectar from just about any plant that is blooming. That means not only do solitary bees help us grow more food, but they pollinate our native plants, too. This makes the plants around us healthier and they can grow larger, which enables them to filter our air and water, boosting the overall health of our ecosystems.
One-third of the food we eat is directly pollinated by bees and farmers use bees to pollinate their crops and grow more food. Solitary bees are incredible pollinators and farmers see a huge increase in yield when they use solitary pollinators in partnership with honeybees.
What is the Difference Between a Solitary Bee and Other Bees?
Belly Floppers – Solitary bees belly flop onto the flower, which gets pollen all over their body. Whereas, a honeybee collects pollen on their back legs. This enables them to pollinate 95 percent of the flowers they land on and they can visit up to 2,000 blossoms a day. That’s a busy bee! This is versus 5 percent for the honeybees.
Holes vs. Hives – Honeybees work in a hive that produces honey and the queen lays eggs. Solitary bees lay eggs in pre-existing tunnels or holes and don’t produce any honey.
Who’s the Queen? – Honeybees have one queen that lays over 2,000 eggs a day. Solitary bees lay all their own eggs: Mason bees lay 15 eggs in their lifetime and leafcutters lay 40.
Baby Bees – Similar to a butterfly, solitary bees lay eggs that then turn into cocoons and hatch the next spring. Honeybees lay eggs that develop into bees inside the hive.
Life Cycle – Solitary bees only live about 5 to 8 weeks. Mason bees live in spring and leafcutters in summer.
Do Not Chew on Wood – Mason bee mandibles are not strong enough to chew through wood. Those are carpenter bees.
How Solitary Bees Help Honeybees
Honeybees are overworked in the pursuit of keeping up with our high demands for food. By using more solitary bees, we can lessen the stress on the honeybee populations and utilize the amazing hardiness of solitary bees to keep our grocery stores stocked with fruit.
Anyone can host solitary bees. They are the easy bees for your yard with the maximum benefit of pollination. There are two types of bees to consider for your yard. Mason bees are spring bees and leafcutters are summer bees.
It is important to set up the proper shelter and nesting material to ensure your bees remain healthy all year long. Nesting blocks that can be separated are the best nesting material for bees. Bamboo reeds or holes drilled into wood cannot be opened and cleaned at the end of the season which means predators like Houdini fly and pollen mites can be detrimental to your bees the following spring.
Many people like to raise their own mason bees and take care to clean them every fall. If you want the benefit of pollination, but not the hassle of cleaning the cocoons and sterilizing nesting blocks, you can rent your bees from companies that provide this service.
Thyra McKelvie started out as a mason bee host and soon discovered the love of solitary bees. She joined the Rent Mason Bees team, where you can rent your bees and they’ll provide you with everything you need to host and pollinate your yard. Visit www.RentMasonBees.com for more info.