This small black gentle bee is a native of almost the entire continental United States. Mother Nature’s great spring pollinator, the ORCHARD MASON BEE (Osmia Lignaria), was pollinating the fruits and flowers of the continent for millions of years before the first colonists brought the honey bee to North America.
This bee is not a hive dwelling social bee like the honey bee. It lays individual eggs in a mud walled cell that it has provisioned with pollen and nectar. Because it can not make it’s own hole, it depends upon others for the nest site. In nature it frequently lays it’s eggs in abandoned beetle holes in the old growth forest. In cities it will use the spaces between shingles on a dwelling. If we provide proper holes for egg laying, the Orchard Mason is very easy to propagate at home. They are completely non-aggressive and perfectly safe to raise in your backyard, as I do in my garden at Knox Cellars.
Early in the Spring, when the weather warms, the hibernating bees emerge from their nesting holes, males and females from each hole. They promptly mate and the female immediately begins her nest building. She gathers pollen and nectar from the spring blossoms and brings it to the nesting hole. When the proper amount of food is gathered and placed in the back of the hole, the female backs in and deposits one egg into the food provision. Then the chamber is completed with a plug of mud masonry collected piece by piece by the hard working female.
The process is repeated again and again until the entire hole is filled with nesting chambers. Finally an extra thick masonry plug is constructed at the hole opening and the bee flies off looking for another hole. This frantic gathering, egg laying and masonry work goes on until early June when the adults all die, presumably from sheer exhaustion.
Inside the egg chamber, life goes on. The egg hatches into a larva, the larva eats the food. spins a cocoon and within that cocoon transforms through the wonders of metamorphosis into a pupa, and finally by the end of summer, into a complete adult. There, within the sealed wood and mud chamber, the bee will hibernate through the long winter to awake again the next spring to renew the cycle.
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