Solitary Bees

Solitary bees are efficient pollinators of many different plant types. They help increase fruit and vegetable yields, whilst also being efficient pollinators of wild flowers, herbs and many other plant types. Solitary bees are safe to have in gardens being not aggressive. They do do not swarm and live as individuals, as opposed to other bee species. Solitary bees collect nectar and pollen from plants and mix it together and put in their brood cells, rather than making honey with it. There are over 200 species listed in the British Isles but like most bees their numbers have been in decline over recent years. There are several ways we can help solitary bees including growing bee friendly plants and providing nest sites.

There are three main classifications of Solitary bees based on how they make their nests; carpenter bees, mining bees and cavity nesters. It is the cavity bees, which include stem nesters, mason bees, leaf cutter bees and carder bees that nesting sites can be provided for. Dragonfli offers a comprehensive range of solitary bee nesting habitats,  seeds and plants for solitary bees to help reverse the decline of these efficient and valuable pollinators.


                                 Solitary bee using a habitat               A leaf cutter bee moving into a tube

The most common cavity nesters in the UK are two of the species of mason bee, the red mason bee ( Osmia bicornis or rufa ) and the blue mason bee (Osmia caerulesans).  Both of these will readily take up residence in a bee hotel, along with a number of the members of the leaf cutter ( Megachilidae ) family. If you are an allotment gardener , establishing a bee hotel on your plot would be of great benefit. Leaf cutter bees in particular are specialists in pollinating beans and other legumes. Red mason bees are very early fliers for pollinating trees and plants.

Life cycles of Solitary bees are broadly similar , in that the female will find a suitable cavity. If she is a mason bee, she may use mud to adjust the internal dimensions and if a leaf cutter she will line the nest cavity with leaf pieces cut from local bushes ( roses are a favourite ). She will then start provisioning with pollen, and once she has enough ( each egg requires about 250mg of pollen ), she will lay an egg, then seal the nest chamber. Mason bees use mud for this; leafcutters just lining from another part of the cavity with a leaf segment. The egg will hatch  and the tiny 1.5mm long larvae will start to eat its way through the pollen, growing in size. This is where it gets complicated with some species ( the early emerging bees ), the larvae pupate in late summer and over winter as fully developed adults wrapped up in a protective cocoon. Other species, that fly later in the year, overwinter as larvae and complete their development in  early summer the following year.

Cleaned mason bee cocoons


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