Bee-hotel Update

01st July 2014

This is the third season for my garden "bee-hotel" and there's been lots of activity. I thought that it was about time that I produced an update and reviewed how the different blocks in the hotel had performed.

The hotel has nine blocks. Four of the blocks are like this one; with 7mm and 8mm drilled holes. These have been very popular with Red Mason Bees (Osmia bicornis) with virtually all the holes finished and sealed. The arrow points to the one Leaf-cutter Bee (Megachile) nest that was completed last year (2013). These bees emerge later than the Red Mason Bees and since taking this photographs, have emerged (during June). Sadly, I missed them, so no photographs.

Read more about my bee-hotel design here

One block has a large drilled hole filled with commercially-available cardboard "bee tubes". The tubes have a paper liner. This can be removed from the tubes later in the year and the bee pupae transferred to a separate container until they emerge the following spring. Parasitic forms can then be discarded. I haven't actually done this yet, but there's lots of information around describing the technique.

These tubes haven't been used much in previous years, but after completing all the drilled holes, the Red Mason bees used them this year. After all the tubes were used, I removed them and replaced them with new, empty ones. After completing nests in about half the tubes, Red Mason Bee activity decreased for the season. I've had a couple of Osmia leaiana "roosting" in empty tubes this month, but I'm not sure whether they are actually nesting.

This block is filled with soft mortar and drilled with holes ranging from 2mm diameter to 10mm. All but the 2mm holes have been used by Red Mason Bees. One 2mm hole has been used by a Passaloecus aphid-hunting wasp. There have been quite a few of these tiny, black wasps using the 2mm holes in the hotel. I'm not sure of the species, but it is one that uses tree resin to seal the nest entrances. I've observed them returning with aphids and with little balls of resin.

The mortar holes have also been popular with several species of solitary bee and wasp for roosting overnight.

Two wooden blocks contain a range of drilled holes from 2mm to 10mm. All the holes from 4mm to 10mm used for nesting, have been used by Red Mason Bees. The 2mm holes have been used mainly by Passaloecus wasps and a single Hylaeus Yellow-faced bee. Several cleptoparasitic Sapyga quinquepunctata wasps and ruby-tailed wasps have been roosting in the 4mm holes.

This cut-bamboo block is the last of the nine blocks and is another that has been hardly used in previous years but has been used this year. Again, it's Red Mason Bees primarily, that have been using them (the ones sealed with mud).

So, a rather good year with well over two hundred Red Mason Bee nests completed and activity from several other species. There's a selection of "hotel visitor" shots below.

This is one of the Passaloecus wasps. There's been quite a bit of activity from these around the 2mm and 4mm holes. Some species seal their nest holes with mud. This species uses tree resin.

These are small black wasps around 5mm in length. I understand that the pale markings on the mandibles are characteristic.

Here we have a female Sapyga quinquepunctata. This is a cleptoparasitic cuckoo wasp that attacks the nests of Osmia bees. I saw a female emerging from one of last year's Osmia leaiana nests that had been parasitised.

Several of these females have taken to roosting overnight in the empty 4mm holes. Interestingly, I haven't seem them taking any notice of the many, adjacent Osmia bicornis nests in the hotel. They seem to fly off when it's sunny and return later to roost.

I'm seeing lots of ruby-tailed wasps around the garden generally this year and several have been roosting in the smaller holes of the hotel and investigating other holes. This one is in one of the mortar holes.

There are several similar species and they parasitise the nests of several other solitary wasp species.

Here's what the bee-hotel is primarily designed for; the Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis). As mentioned above, well over two hundred nests have been completed. This (minus failed and parasitised brood cells) could see around a thousand new Red Mason Bees emerging next year!

Last year a few Osmia leaiana nests were completed in the bee-hotel. I was looking forward to seeing this year's brood emerging and did manage to get a few photographs. They emerge later than the Red Mason Bees and here's a newly-emerged male just about to set off on his adventures.

Red Mason Bee males have quite a bit of white facial hair but with Osmia leaiana, the hair is predominantly golden in colour.

Apart from providing accommodation for a variety of these hard-working and industrious little insects, the bee-hotel has (and continues to) provide me with hours of entertainment. I'll do a follow-up report at the end of "the season" but I already have some additional interesting photographs of a Hylaeus Yellow-faced Bee completing a nest, an interesting parasitic wasp ovipositing into a Passaloecus nest-hole, and the remarkable-looking wasp Gasteruption jaculator investigating holes.

[Click on any small image for a larger version]


Photo comment By conall: brilliant stuff! I love the red mason and ruby tail wasp pictures
Photo comment By John Peterson: Ed - Your pictures are really great and I appreciate your comments and best practices. Thanks for all the hard work.
Photo comment By harumi: excellent work and thank you for sharing the beautiful pictures and detailed observations.

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