My family and I live in a cabin of sorts. It is situated in a lovely little patch of woods, which is home to a wonderful variety of wildlife. One of the first things you learn when moving to the country is that there isn’t much of a boundary between your walls and the boundaries of the creatures living just beyond them. Sometimes those boundaries are shared. When we first moved out into the country just over eight years ago now, I was a somewhat surprised (for some silly reason) by the number of animals that would make an appearance in our home or use our walls as their shelter. However, over time, I have come to love the fact that lizards disappear into the cracks and phoebes nest high above our front door each year (in spite of the fact that they love to decorate our front door with their droppings for a few days…admittedly not a big fan of that). Now that I’ve focused my work on bees, my son Ethan and I –my very talented bee hunting partner– have noticed another very tiny resident, a Mason Bee (Heriades sp, Neotrypetes), who has set up her home in our walls.
All too often, many people unnecessarily panic when they see bees in and around their home. In some cases there is some reason for concern as Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa virginica here in the eastern US) can cause some minor damage. However, most native North American bees who are interested in our homes for a nesting site use prexisting cavities. This means any small holes in siding, wood, deck railing and so on can make a perfect shelter to raise their young. Can you blame them? Mason bees such as our little guest are fascinating insects that are members of the family Megachilidae. Species in this family primarily carry pollen attached to hairs on the underside of their abdomen rather than on their legs like most bees. Bees in the genus Heriades get their common name –Mason Bee– from their practice of walling off the cells of their nests with bits of mud, sand and other materials just like a human brick mason might do. Inside of each nest cell, the mother bee carefully constructs a ball of pollen and nectar upon which she will lay a single egg. Soon after being laid and sealed into its chamber, the egg will hatch and the larva will grow until the following spring before pupating and emerging as an adult Mason Bee. In some cases, individuals may stay in the cell longer, which is thought to be a strategy to insure that some individuals will always be around in case the previous season’s brood are unsuccessful. You could say that I’m beyond happy, honored actually, that this extraordinary animal would choose to harmoniously share its home with me. I know that some of you reading this may find this unthinkable but I can assure you that these little bees make wonderful neighbors. Sometimes is good to remember that we should do what we can to protect the “least among us…”. And by the way, since almost all North American bees are solitary, the presence of one bee isn’t an indication that you’ll soon be swarmed.