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Summer Questions, Answers and Observations


Subject: What fun!
From: Deer Fern Bed and Breakfast, BC Canada


Thank you for spending time in Gibsons [BC]this spring and giving a talk on mason bees. You have a passion for your bees and it shows. My husband and I had a blast watching our out-door-pets. We have the Royal home and one little box of cocoons. We place them beside the picnic table. Our guests had a lesson on Mason bees whether they liked it or not! Well…success.  All the cocoons emerged and all but one condo has been taken. Of course the penthouse goes first, then the ground floor last. We were very sad when the last eggs were laid, but we also recognize that we will have our 100+ to deal with next year.



We loved your story!




Subject: Parasites and other critters-1
From: Tom L ., BC Canada


When I inspected my bee houses 2 nights ago there was a critter in one of the channels that didn’t look like a mason bee.  It was there again tonight in the same hole. It’s back was facing out it had a black wing casing with brilliant yellow stripes around the outside of its wing casing. The tube in front of this critter was full of bright yellow pollen. Any ideas on this?



If this critter had pollen on it…it is a bee of some kind. No pollen on the body and it could be a beneficial wasp….that collects larva, or spiders, or aphids for their young.



Subject: Parasites and other critters -2
From: Tom L ., BC Canada

On a biking trip through the Myra Canyon (Kelowna area) last Thursday, we came across hundreds of black parasitic wasp “look alikes” swarming around a clay bank. They had holes in the clay just large enough to get through. They were twice the size of the parasitic wasps I hatched, and their back “stinger” was quite long—Any ideas as to what these were ?


In the dry interior of British Columbia, clay banks often provide the living quarters for a wonderful array of bees, their parasites, and in turn their parasites or ‘hyperparasites’. The ones that you saw are likely parasites of an insect, and it could be a bee. Their behaviour includes hovering around the face of the bank waiting for the females to leave the nest and then they scoot inside and parasitize the bee egg.



Subject: Parasites and other critters -3

From: Tom L ., BC Canada

On June 14th I noticed a parasitic wasp at the entrance of one of my bee condo holes. I managed to squish that one but I couldn’t get the other one at the far end of a partially filled hole. I guess I’m going to have to weed out a couple of cells in the spring, as I did this year.


Another way of ‘catching’ those parasitic wasps at this time is to spray them out of the air with a fine mist and then squish them. Very effective to catch them while they are low in numbers




Subject: Cleaning Nest and Cocoons and When.
From: Norm F., Campbelll River, BC Canada

Can you tell me when the larva are mature? I want to remove them from the tubes this year, as last year I lost many to mites. Thank you for you help and expertise.



Yes, mites are a common problem and can be devastating to mason bees. First, the young bee larvae grows into a larger larvae, as they consume the pollen food left inside the nest by the female. The large larvae turns into a pupae which spins a cocoon, and then becomes an adult inside the cocoon by the end of the summer.

I recommend that cleaning out the nests and cocoons be done between Oct and New Year. Note that mites inside the tubes multiply and compete for the pollen-bee larval food. Cleaning the cocoons in the fall is the easiest way to get rid of most of the mites.



Subject: Success and the Weather.
From: Heather, Cannor Nursery, Parksville BC

I guess you’re aware that it has been a slightly disappointing year for people trying to establish colonies. The weather I guess was too cold this spring. Do you have any thoughts or information on this that we can pass on to our customers.


Temperature is the most important factor in determining whether bees are going to emerge, fly and forage. The warmer it is, the more active is the bee. Cold temperatures are a fact of life, but several things can be done to improve our chances of success.

1) Set the nest up in a sunny location and out of the wind, in other words, the warmest location in your garden.

2) Increase the number of bees set out in the spring. This increases your chance of success. In this case, more is better.

3) Set a group of males and females out every 4-7 days. Some will succeed and others will not…mostly because of the weather.

4) Keep cocoons refrigerated (under moist conditions, 2 to 4 degrees Centigrade) until April (up to the end of April) when temperatures are usually warmer than earlier in the spring.



Subject: Number of bees per nesting tunnel
From: Heather, Cannor Nursery, Parksville BC

I checked our observation nest for the first time this year and was surprised to discover that all but one chamber appeared to have more than one larva in them. Also one tube was only half full with the last chamber not sealed off, however, I suspect that this was a work in progress.


Yes, foraging is a dangerous business. Predators like spiders or birds can kill a bee before she has sealed a nest off and I know these predators can wipe out a whole lot of bees. On average, a completely filled 6″ nesting tunnel has 6 new mason bees inside. The number of bees in a nesting tunnel can be anywhere from 1 to 14.



Subject: Tiny flying insects around the nest. What are they?
From: CP, Vancouver

What are the little tiny insects that are hovering around my mason bee nests? They don’t seem be doing anything except fly around the nest, land on the face of the nests, and just hang around the nest. They are smaller than a mosquito, but more compact. They fly fast and I have not been able to catch any. They are out and about during the hot part of the day.


These are Chalcid wasps. When they get the chance they lay an egg in the developing bee and produce many little wasps to infest more developing bees. If they build up in numbers, these wasps can seriously decrease the number of mason bees in your garden. I tried swatting them, but they fly so fast I cannot squash them like a mosquito. However, I have discovered a way of getting rid of them while they are in flight. I spray them with a very fine mist of water or vinegar using a misting sprayer. The little wasps fall out of the sky and then you can squash them. Avoid spraying your bees, the vinegar may have a similar effect on them.



Subject: Unwanted ‘Beehive’
From: J.O.

Can you please answer my questions. Today I discovered a rather large beehive (the size of a basketball) in the shrubbery adjacent to the pool. The bees seem to be swarming directly around the hive. The bees seem more numerous and intense with noise the children are making while playing and swimming in the pool as well as while walking around the perimeter of the pool. How do I remove beehive safely? Or, is there a specific individual or company that removes beehives and if so what heading/category do I search for removal. The bees that appear to occupy this hive are what I refer to as “Yellow Jackets” quick little bees that seem to like to sting. Any info will be greatly appreciated. Thanks much.


Yes these sound like Yellow Jackets. Pest Control Companies do destroy insects with an insecticide and then remove nests. Please consult them.




Subject: Spinning cocoon report

From: R.W., Victoria

Thought I’d let you know that my orchard mason bees have started spinning themselves into their cocoons. Larvae half way down a couple of the tubes were the first ones to spin their cocoons – about three days ago. The first egg laid did not spin into a cocoon until yesterday. In the morning the larvae was clearly visible. Last night after supper it was a cocoon. The cocoons are light magenta, not gray as we see them in the fall. Sometime between now and the fall they must change colour.


My Osmia lignaria have not started spinning yet. The grubs are pretty big though. Sounds like the resting period between grub and spinning the cocoon is VERY short indeed.




Subject: Black bumble bees

From: S.L.., Vancouver

Hi, I have a wonderful little balcony container-plant garden. I recently saw a huge flying thing that at first I thought might be a horsefly but someone suggested to me that it was probably a black bumble bee. Anyhow, it’s large and seems to have an attitude that is unfriendly. This darn critter chased me off my balcony and then acted like it was going to get into my apartment where I have more container plants. Even though my screen door was closed this creature kept flying up to my screen door and acted like it was going to fly in. My question, are you at all familiar with this insect that I’ve described. Is there a natural way to discourage it from visiting my balcony. Someone suggested that if I wash the ledge of the balcony with dish detergent and water and spray such a solution on my plants that would work. What do you advise?

p.s. I noticed this mini-football size insect seemed to like my succulent plant that was in bloom — think it’s called Christmas cactus or Easter cactus.


You posted an interesting question. I have always tried to attract bees, including bumble bees. They are such fun to watch especially when they are feeding on flowers that I have planted. The bumble bee that you saw was probably a queen looking for food so that she will survive the winter during hibernation. Perhaps the bumble bee came towards you because of some kind of scent. Hair shampoos usually have scents in them, and are very attractive to bees. If you do not want to attract bees, choose red flowers, such as geraniums, tulips. These flowers no longer have nectaries and bees do not usually forage on red flowers.



Subject: Under House

From: C.K.

I have noticed bumble bees going into the space under my house, are they a problem or can I just leave them alone? Thanks.



They will only be around for another 2 to 3 weeks. If you can leave them, that would be great. If you want to prevent the bees from setting up shop next year, look and see if they are getting into the insulation. In the fall, plug up this hole. Thank you for letting nature take its course.



Subject: Weather and Moving Nests
From: C.G., Vancouver

In April 1998, I purchased 10 pairs of mason bees from you; 1998 produced about 23 plugs; 2005 produced about 155 plugs. Nearly all my plugs this year are in square holes; size 5/16 and 9/32 – no apparent preference. Clean square holes seemed to be preferred to last year’s used round holes. I tried 3 kinds of wood (pine, yellow & red cedar). No apparent preference. I tried to supply them with mud, with very limited success; next I plan to examine the mud and see if I can concoct a mix they like.

As usual I have a few questions,

[1] If the weather had not turned so rainy in May, would I have gotten more production, or would the girls have just run out of steam sooner?

[2] Can I safely(carefully) move a bee box when larvae are present, or do I need to wait until they pupate? (I have a box on a shed that I need to do construction on, and don’t want to disturb the colony).


Thank you for your results and congratulations. Your story is a success.

[1] Yes with better weather, we all would have had better production.

[2] If you have to move the bee house, remove and place it in another warm sunny spot. Take care that the nests are in the same orientation and larvae have not rolled off their pollen food in their nests. Once they are off their food they cannot return. They starve and then die.


Subject: Flowers as food for your bees
From: B.H., Vancouver

I have had great success growing borage. Mine self-seeded from last year’s flowers. There are many varieties of daisy that provide food for the bees. It must be easy to make a bee garden. Do you have a list of flowers I can grow that would provide food for my bees?


I am gathering this information. Please email me if you know of certain varieties of flowering plants that are exceptional in attracting bees.




Subject: Sex determination in mason bees
From: D. S., Vancouver

I found this reference on the web from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Could this be the means of sex determination in mason bees – an unfertilized egg becoming a male?

The ovary of the queen bee is composed of several hundred ovarioles, each of which contains about 60 eggs and so-called nutrition cells. The so-called spermatheca, a sperm reservoir that collects sperm from the male in the course of several matings, connects with the oviduct, through which eggs are carried to the outside. The sperm can remain alive and viable in the fluid medium of the spermatheca for several years. When an egg passes down the oviduct, it may or may not be fertilized by emerging sperm, according to the “discretion” of the female. Fertilization occurs if the female relaxes a muscular ring around the sperm duct, thus allowing the duct to open and sperm to pass through. Since unfertilized eggs result in males and fertilized eggs result in females, the queen determines the sex of the offspring by relaxing or closing the muscular ring.


Yes, this is how it happens.





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