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MasonBees

Welcome to the buzzing world of mason bees. We’ve all heard of honeybees and bumblebees but this mason lot may not be quite so familiar. These bees fall into the incredibly large group known as solitary bees – there’s around 30,000 across the globe. As their name suggests, solitary bees like to live alone and, as wild bees, mason bees don’t need a hive or a beekeeper to look after them.

Why all the fuss about mason bees? Just like other solitary bees they are quite simply superheroes of the bee world because of their amazing ability to pollinate so many plants and flowers. Without them, it would be a lot more difficult to get all the food we enjoy on our plates. Every year their work contributes an estimated £690 million to the UK economy. Let's just say, this lot is doing an incredibly important job!

But we’ve got a problem, their population is in serious decline from environmental changes and they need our help. Read on to learn more about mason bees, as we explain how to recognise them and let you know what you should do to give them a helping hand.

TYPES OF MASON BEES

Out of the 30,000 solitary bees around the world, 300 species fall into the mason bee category. Break it down further and 11 different types of mason bee can be found in the UK.

Before you head out into the garden to look for them, you might be wondering what do mason bees look like? As a rough guide, most mason bees are medium in size and the majority, although not all, have orange markings. Let’s run through the different types of mason bees with a few facts about each.

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Gold-fringed mason bee

Mason bees, active from April to August, thrive in coastal districts, favoring nesting sites like dunes, shingles, soft-rock cliffs, and coastal grasslands. The females, measuring 8-10mm, boast brick-red hairs on their middle section and golden-black stripes on their bodies. Males, smaller and slightly duller, accompany them. These bees indulge in bird’s-foot trefoil, thistles, and black medick as their preferred snacks.

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Red-tailed mason bee

The red-tailed mason bee, active from March to July, frequents woodlands and limestone landscapes, even venturing into quarries. Surprisingly, their nesting sites of choice are snail shells. The females, measuring 6.5-8mm, display a black middle section and vibrant orangey-red stripes, while the smaller, light brown-colored males accompany them. These bees have diverse culinary preferences, enjoying snacks like bird’s foot trefoil, wood anemone, dandelion, and bluebells.

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Blue mason bee

Active from April to August, is commonly spotted in woodlands and gardens. They tend to nest in pre-existing cavities like abandoned nests, hollow stems, dead wood, and even wall crevices. Females, measuring 10-11mm, showcase a dark blue, almost metallic appearance, adorned with pale stripes toward their rear. In contrast, the smaller males exhibit a distinct metallic green body surface. These versatile bees have an eclectic palate, indulging in various snacks.

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Orchard mason bee

Flying from mid-March to June, the orchard mason bee was first recorded in London in 2014 and are expected to expand over the south of the UK. Thriving in diverse habitats, including urban areas, these bees have a special affinity for bee hotels. Females, resembling red mason bees, are distinguished by the presence of horns on their faces, while the males present a more subdued version of the female appearance. As important pollinators of fruit trees, they have a varied diet encompassing various snacks.

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Mountain mason bee

Mountain mason bee takes flight from May to July and is predominantly found in the Scottish Highlands. These resourceful bees choose nesting sites beneath stones and in small cavities within rocks. Female bees showcase almost black lower bodies adorned with vibrant orange hair on the middle section, while males appear almost black with a distinctive ring of orange hair in the middle. Their preferred snack is bird’s-foot trefoil.

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Orange-vented mason bee

Active May to July, these bees thrive in southern Britain, reaching Yorkshire and Cumbria. Nesting in fence posts, walls, and dead wood, they also fancy bee hotels. Females sport almost black bodies on top with a dense brush of bright orange hair underneath, while smaller males lack the distinctive orange underside. They enjoy various snacks like thistles, black knapweed, globe thistles, and daisy-type flowers.

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Wall mason bee

The wall mason bee takes flight from May to July, favoring unimproved grassland, herb-rich areas, and woodland glades. Nesting creatively, they choose crevices in drystone walls, rock faces, and standing deadwood. Females display mostly black lower bodies with ginger hair in the middle, while males are predominantly black. Their preferred snack is bird’s-foot trefoil.

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Spined mason bee

The Spined mason bee is active from May to September, predominantly found in chalk and limestone areas of southern England and the South Wales coast. Utilizing unconventional nesting sites like snail shells, these small bees feature light brown stripes of hair across their top and sides. Females boast a bright orange mass of hair underneath, while their preferred snacks include bugle and violet flowers.

Pinewood mason bee

The pinewood mason bee, active from late April to early July, dwells in the pine woodlands of the Scottish Highlands. Resourcefully nesting in stumps, fallen pine trunks, and natural crevices, females exhibit black bodies with a dense brush of orange hairs in the middle. The smaller males sport only a sparse brush of light brown hair. Their preferred snacks include bird’s-foot trefoil, broom, and bilberry.

Cliff mason bee

The cliff mason bee, active from April to July, exclusively inhabits coastal cliffs and is currently confined to Wales. Characterized by their rarity, they prefer specific soft rock cliffs for nesting. Among the largest of their species, measuring 12-13mm, their honeybee-like shape features predominantly black bodies with golden hairs on the middle section, fading towards the bottom. Their favored snack is bird’s-foot trefoil.

RED MASON BEE

One of the most commonly found mason bee species in the UK is the red mason bee, which probably has a lot to do with their incredibly adaptable nature. These mason bees are not fussy about where they live and you are just as likely to find them in your garden, roaming around farmland or buzzing about the parks in towns and cities. They also happily nest in different locations – basically, anywhere that’s a tunnel. Whether that’s gaps in window frames, air bricks, plant stems, dead wood or even empty snail shells, they’ll find a place to rest.

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Want to know if you’ve got red mason bees living near you? Start looking out for them in early spring when the weather gets warmer. The males appear first, around late March, followed by the females. You’ll have to be quick though, this lot are usually gone by June. When spotting the red mason, you’ll need to be sharp-sighted because they are very similar to other bees in the species and similar in size to the honeybee. Males and females look very similar, and both display a dense covering of ginger-coloured hair striped across their bodies. The males are slightly smaller and have a white tuft of hair on their faces.

DO MASON BEES STING?

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The first big question is, can mason bees sting? The answer is a bit muddled. Yes, female mason bees do have a stinger and they can use this to sting you. However, they are fairly relaxed bees which means they will only use their stinger for self-protection. In fact, they have no problems being near people and, because they are solitary bees with no queen bee or hive to protect, they are generally non-aggressive. Let them have their space, don’t annoy them and they are unlikely to sting you. The sting from a female mason bee also tends to not feel as severe as one from a honey bee – we don’t recommend testing the theory!

On the plus side, the male bees, as with most other bee species, don’t have a stinger and can’t do you any harm.

FACTS ABOUT MASON BEES

  • Mason bees work alone and don’t rely on the complicated structure of a beehive. Each female is both her own queen and the worker - she lays the eggs, as well as goes out to collect nectar for food.

  • Mason bees, like other solitary bees, only live for approximately 10 weeks. Once the eggs are in the nest and everything is sealed up their job is done. It’s a harsh life!

  • They don’t make honey! They collect pollen and nectar for energy and the nests, but there is no need to create stores of food due to their short lifespan.

  • They are amazing pollinators. This is all down to the fact that they are just a bit messy. You see other social bees, such as the honeybee, have pollen baskets which safely store the goods as they buzz about. With mason bees, as they land on the flowers the pollen basically sticks to the hairs on their body, so as they fly between the flowers, it easily drops off and pollinates other flowers.

  • The blue mason bees produce two broods per year. The first lot appears from April to July and then again in August.

  • Mason bees don’t fly far for food. In fact, they only travel about 300m of their nest, unlike the honeybees who go a whopping 10km!

  • It takes a lot of work to provide for their offspring – mason bees have to visit approximately 1875 flowers for a single larva.

HOW TO HELP MASON BEES

We know mason bees are some of the best at pollinating our plants, which means we really need to look after them, especially when you realise that they are increasingly under threat from a lack of suitable habitat.

Luckily, it’s incredibly easy to do in only five simple steps:

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1

First, give them somewhere safe to create their nest. Most mason bees will happily set up home in a bee hotel. They are incredibly easy to make, so why not create one for your garden? Just make sure you place it in a sunny position where rain can’t flood the tubes.

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Give them the food they need! Remember, the mason bee doesn’t travel far, so they’re going to need flowers nearby, and lots of them. Think about what you’re planting and choose flowers that will appear from early spring all through into the autumn months. If you need some guidance on the best bee-friendly flowers, we’ve got you covered. Don’t worry if you haven’t got a garden, pots and tubs full of flowers will do the job nicely.

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3

Go a little bit wild (well in your garden at least). Let the lawnmower have a rest and leave a section of grass to grow out of control. It provides the perfect place for bees to feed and shelter among the gra

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Provide water – especially in the hot summer months. Collecting all that pollen is thirsty work and bees need a good drink to stay healthy.

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5

Don’t spray! We’re talking about bee-harming pesticides here. When you spray your flowers, it gets absorbed into the pollen and nectar which the bees ingest and can kill them.

Now you know what to do, let’s roll up our sleeves and start helping our friends the mason bees!

Visit our Beehive for more information about how you can get involved and #beenoisy about saving the bees.