Myths About Mason Bees
Before I, Matthew Davies, started beekeeping, ten years ago, I didn’t realize there were so many different types of bees. Most people call them honeybees. I was familiar with honeybee, of courses. As I started researching my hobby, I quickly learned that much like there are different breeds of horses, dogs, cats and cows, there are many different breeds of bees. I found one type of bee – the mason bees- particularly interesting and today I want to share more about mason bees and the myths that surround them.
Just a note: Whenever you get a group of beekeepers together, you will find a dozen different opinions. The variation in opinion speaks volumes to the amount of information that needs to be learned and is the reason that myths about bees exists in the first place. In this piece, I’ll attempt to dispel several such myths about mason bees.
What Are Mason Bees?
Before we get to the myths surrounding mason bees, we must first learn how to distinguish them from other bees. In the broadest senses, a mason bee is any bee that collects materials from the environment to use for nest building and child-rearing purposes. Much like the term honeybee is an umbrella term for all bees that make honey, this description is quite broad. However, to be more specific, when melittologists (people that study bees) use the term, they are referring to several genera in the family Megachilidae.
The Megachilidae family includes a group of bees that include leafcutting bees, woolcarder bees, resin bees, and of course mason bees. This group of bees collect all kinds of materials, including but not limited to, plant resin, fibers, mud, pebbles, petals, leaves, and at times builder’s caulk and other construction items. Depending on the species, they can be pretty open regarding what they will collect. These bees commonly have massive jaws to cut down and transport the things they bring back to construct their hives. That is the very essence of the name Megachilidae. It means large jaw or a large lip.
Now that we know how to distinguish mason bees, we can move on to talking about the myths that surround these remarkable insects.
Myth: All Mason Bees Are Native
When you hear a scientist discussing mason bees, they are generally referring to one of up to 130 different species in the genus Osmia. That’s right; there are approximately 130 different species of mason bees in North America. However, when non-scientific types talk about mason bees, they are usually referring to the blue orchid bee. Beekeepers on the East coast are talking about a different species than both groups mentioned above. It is important to remember that the bees East coast beekeepers are talking about are not native to North America. Much like the European bee, it was imported for a specific purpose. Over the years, they have increased in numbers and have spread across the country.
Myth: Mason Bees Don’t Sting
It is believed in some circles that mason bees neither use nor have a stinger. However, I can tell you from experience that not only do the female mason bees have stingers, they most certainly know when and how to use them.
That being said, each time I have been stung by a mason bee, it was my fault. For example, one time, I had not secured my sleeves properly, and one crawled inside the sleeve an onto my arm. At the time, I was also wearing a watch and the bee crawled under the band (I like to wear them loose). When I extended my arm and the band tightened the mason bee was not afraid to let me know I made a mistake. If I am being honest, I made two mistakes. The first one involved not securing my sleeves properly and the second was wearing a watch. There is no need for a watch when you are tending to the bees but if you do wear one, it should be under your clothes and inaccessible.
Mason bees do, however, seem to have a different sting than other bees. On the handful of times I have been stung, the sting does not feel the same as when I get stung by other bees. This might help to contribute to the myth. Since a mason bee sting does not seem to hurt as badly, seasoned beekeepers may not even notice the sting and therefore dismiss it as nothing at all.
Myth: Mason Bees Are a Substitute for Honeybees
Nothing could be further from the truth. For starters, mason bees do not produce honey the way honeybees do. Mason bees are highly effective in pollinating but do not produce enough honey to collect. Additionally, you will find that most mason bees will stick around only until the first crops in the fields start to bloom. While they do make an excellent addition to the honeybee, they will never replace them.
The same is true for all other bee species aside from honeybees.
Since honeybees are a year-round colony, they need to continually replace workers that expire or add workers when they need more honey. And while the only things they need are warm weather and a crop that needs pollinating (essentially, bees pollinate whenever and wherever they can to maintain the colony), a honeybee’s work be performed by any other type of bees.
Myth: Mason Bees Will Save the Planet
As you have no doubt heard, bee populations are on a decline. If you noticed, these reports do not specify which bee species are declining. The reason is that all bee species are all falling in number. The truth is, all bee species are equally crucial to the survival of the planet. Every bee species serves an important purpose on our planet. Among other reasons, they live in different areas and pollinate various crops. This, in and of itself, makes this myth more ridiculous than any other on this list. We need as many bees as we can get to pollinate our crops, so we all have enough to eat.
When it comes to bees, many different opinions can be shared. The importance of discerning between fact and fiction falls on the beekeepers. It is important to me that beekeepers take caution in spreading myths. It gives us an unreasonable expectation of what bees are capable of. Thank you for taking the time to let me share the truths behind these myths. I hope that if you hear one of them in the future, you’ll take the opportunity to pass along this knowledge.