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Native bees workshop planned Saturday

By Ben Calwell, Metro Reporter
Leafcutter bees are also native to North America. Leafcutter bees and mason bees are both excellent pollinators.
Mason bees ares native to North America and will be one of the topics during this Saturday’s Native Bees Workshop in Hurricane. Courtesy photos

If you thought honey bees were beneficial, sit back and listen to Rob O’Quinn fill you in on the importance of mason bees and leafcutter bees, which are native to North America.

O’Quinn, who owns Birds, Blooms and Butterflies by Design in Hurricane, is hosting a Native Bee Workshop from 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday, March 25, at Area 34, 971 W.Va. 34, off the Winfield exit of Interstate 64. It is a co-working space and headquarters of the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce and Putnam County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The class costs $39 and includes a bee house, nesting tubes, native bee guide booklet and 30 bees, which class participants can order by going online and entering a special code. To reserve a seat for the workshop, call 304-562-2473.

“We will be giving a Power Point presentation on native bees, specifically, two types: mason bees, which come out in the spring, and leafcutter bees, which are summer native bees,” O’Quinn said in a telephone interview.

Workshop participants will learn how to draw these two species of bees to their yards and keep them there where they will “work their magic,” O’Quinn said.

The “magic” of mason bees and leafcutter bees is that they are “100 times greater at pollination than regular honey bees. And a lot of people don’t know this, but honey bees are not native to North America -- they came from Europe,” O’Quinn said.

Because mason bees and leafcutter bees are such great pollinators, “they can vastly increase crop yields. And the neat thing is, they fit into a backyard habitat and they fit on a commercial basis.”

Another fact about mason bees and leafcutter bees is that they are solitary bees.

“They are Lone Rangers -- they don’t live in hives. And they only live for six weeks, and during that time they pollinate like crazy,” O’Quinn said.

The two native species are also fairly non-aggressive.

“They do not sting you unless you get aggressive with them, and if they do sting, the venom does not produce anaphylactic shock.”

Mason bee and leafcutter bee facts:

Spring Bees vs. Summer Bees

• Both spring mason bees and summer leafcutter bees are gentle, solitary, gregarious, hole-nesting bees that are great alternative managed bees. They are superior pollinators that carry pollen dry and loose on their abdomens.

• Spring: the mason bees that Birds, Bees and Butterflies by Design carries emerge in cool spring weather (50°F/10°C), use clayey mud to build nest partitions, spin cocoons and hibernate as fully-formed bees, and are superior pollinators of apple, cherry, pear, almond, peach, kiwi, nuts, and berries. They are also great pollinators of early spring-blooming flowers.

• Summer: leafcutter bees emerge in warm summer weather (70°F/21°C), build partitions for their young out of leaves, hibernate as eggs or larvae and are superior pollinators of melons, squash, cucurbits, peas and other summer vegetables and flowers.

• Spring Mason Bees

Mason bees are one of the nearly 4,000 bees that are native to North America. They are the original, and best, pollinators of early blooming spring fruit and nut trees and berry bushes.

• Emergence

The bees are a spring pollinator that emerges when the weather begins to warm to a consistent daily temperature of 55°F/13°C. Don’t worry -- nighttime temperatures don’t affect when the bees begin to emerge. Mason bees often emerge around the same time that dandelions and cherries begin to bloom.

• Nest-Building Material

Mason bees need moist, clayey mud for building their nesting chamber partitions. At the end of the nesting hole, the female bee packs an extra-thick layer of clayey mud for protection; this is called a capped end.

Spring mason bees rely on mud to build their nesting chamber, so areas with sandy soil, such as coastal beaches and deserts, are not generally able to support mason bees. Do not underestimate this requirement. If a mason bee finds no available clayey mud, it will fly elsewhere. If you observe a poor return of nesting spring bees, make sure you provide clayey mud that remains moist. You can provide a hole in the ground with Birds, Bees and Butteflies by Design’s mason bee mud and the store also has a mud box that keeps mud properly moist.

• Life Cycle of Mason Bees

Early Spring: Adults emerge from cocoons and mate. Males are only actively flying for two weeks.

Spring: Females gather pollen and nectar, build muddy nest chamber partitions, seal up nesting hole ends with extra thick caps. Females actively fly for up to six weeks after emerging from their cocoons.

Late Spring-Fall: Eggs hatch and grow into larvae within their nesting chamber, larvae slowly grow and eat pollen loaf and spin dark brown cocoons.

Fall-Winter: Hibernate as fully-formed adults. Adults live off their stored fats over the winter.

• Summer Leafcutter Bees

Naturalized after 1940, alfalfa leafcutter bees saved the American alfalfa industry because they are 15 times better at pollination of alfalfa than honey bees. Alfalfa is a very important feed for livestock. Leafcutter bees are also good pollinators of milkweed, the host plant of the monarch butterfly, whose population is threatened but not currently protected as an endangered species.

Summer leafcutter bees are special, because they are biovoltine: They are able to produce two broods (and sometimes more) per season. Some of the eggs develop quickly and emerge as adults in the same season as they were laid; these are called second-generation bees. Second-generation bees will emerge if you leave filled nesting holes in a warm location and the weather is warm enough, long enough.

The evidence of the emergence of second-generation bees is a large hole in capped ends and leafy debris at the bottom of the nesting house. Second-generation bees give your garden a boost of even more pollination time. Unfortunately, with each extra generation, the amount of bees nesting in your trays will diminish as bees also disperse to other points in the area. You may need to supplement with a new order of leafcutter bees every few years.

• Nest-Building Material

Females use their mandibles (jaws) to cut circles into leaves, and these small, three-quarter-inch cuts into your non-fibrous plants will not harm the plant. Leafcutter bees prefer leaves similar to those of rose, lilac and pea leaves. Female bees use the cut circles to build a protective, leafy cocoon for the larva. She places a pollen loaf and egg inside and seals both into the leafy cocoon. Leafcutter cocoons are beautiful and are sometimes made of flower petals. At the end of the nesting hole, the female bee packs in a capped end of extra leaves or petals to protect the developing larvae.

• Life Cycle of Leafcutter Bees

Summer: Adults emerge from cocoons and mate. Cocoons delivered by Crown Bees have been incubated and arrive ready to emerge. Bees raised by you will emerge based on how much warm weather they receive. Males are only actively flying for two weeks.

Summer: Females gather pollen and nectar; build protective, leafy cocoons and seal up nesting hole ends with extra-thick caps. Females actively fly for up to six weeks after emerging from their cocoons.

Summer: If conditions are right (many days of hot weather), some bees will incubate and develop into adults right away. These second-generation bees mate and continue to fill your nesting holes with next year’s bees.

Late Summer-Fall: Eggs and larvae enter diapause (hibernation) within their protective, leafy cocoons.

Winter: Hibernate as larvae.

Spring: Larvae begin metamorphosis to become adult bees.

To reserve a seat for the Native Bees Workshop, call 304-562-2473.


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