Honeybees get all the glory, but the hard-working mason bee deserves some of that limelight. Bee pollination is crucial to our food supply, and as honeybee populations dwindle, the mason bee is stepping up to the pollination plate.
Local authors Dave Hunter and Jill Lightner have written an inspiring how-to book called Mason Bee Revolution: How the Hardest Working Bee Can Save the World One Backyard at a Time. It’s packed full of facts on pollination and food production, along with information on how to raise these hardworking bees.
Seattle’s Child talked to Dave Hunter to find out how kids and their families can help these gentle bees.
How can kids help the mason and leafcutter bees? What is the most important action that kids can take to help mason bees?
Tell your friends and family about these super-cool bees — did you know that not all bees are aggressive and that it is very rare for either mason bees or leafcutter bees to sting? They don’t try to defend their homes the way that honeybees do, and male mason bees don’t even have a stinger at all. Also, ask your parents to be careful about what chemicals they use in their yard — make sure nothing is used that can either kill bees or drive them away. And, of course, you should try to raise them! It’s easy and a fun project for the entire family. You can even rent your Mason bees from a local company Rent Mason Bees that will provide guidance and set you up with your bee raising kit.
Why are mason bees important to our environment?
We like to say that “honeybees make honey, and mason bees make food.” Just one mason bee can do the pollination work of 60 honeybees in a cherry orchard — that’s equal to 12 pounds of cherries from one little mason! And since mason bees nest in simple, easy-to-transport homes, you can move them from one backyard to another, or around a big orchard— something that you can’t do with many of the 800-plus species of bees in Washington state.
What makes mason bees different from honeybees?
Mason bees are much more gentle. Because each female bee is a queen, they lay eggs and do all of the other work like gather pollen and nectar, gather and place the mud to protect each hole. She can’t do everything and defend a hole, so she doesn’t. They’re so gentle you can even hold them in your hands when they emerge from their cocoons in the spring. The mason bee also gathers her pollen on her abdomen, while a honeybee gathers pollen on its hind legs. This makes a difference, in that the mason bee’s pollen falls off on nearly every flower she visits, while the honeybee’s pollen mostly winds up in the hive — an estimated 99 percent of flowers landed on by mason bees get pollinated. Mason bees are also very happy to stay at home — they only fly about 300 feet from home, whereas honey bees might fly 2 miles from their hive.