Bee condos for bee conservation

This guest blog is by April Hamblin an M.Sc. student conducting research on urban bees in our lab.

If you haven’t heard the news already, the White House is creating a Pollinator Plan to help create new pollinator habitat.

But habitat for bees does not have to stop (or start) there—YOU can create bee habitat in

Osmia atriventris, or a Mason Bee, is one of many bees that will inhabit bee condos. These blue beauties use a combination of mud and leaf pulp to construct their homes. Photograph by Sam Droege, USGS.

Osmia atriventris, or a Mason Bee, is one of many bees that will inhabit bee condos. These blue beauties use a combination of mud and leaf pulp to construct their homes. Photograph by Sam Droege, USGS.

your very own back yard! Planting more native flowers is a great start, but if you have already landscaped your yard to the hilt or just want to do something simple, bee condos (as my dad calls them) are just the thing for you.

Native bees live in many areas materials.  Many species live in the ground such as the small andrenids that come out early each spring. Others make nests in hollow twigs, reeds, or holes in rotten wood. Unfortunately, many of these materials are less abundant in urban yards than in natural areas.

Bee condos use bamboo and other natural reeds to replace these plant materials and create five star living for native bees. But don’t worry, these bees don’t excavate holes to live in. They are also solitary, which means that they live alone instead of socially like honey bees. They have a mild temperament (as long as kids don’t stick their fingers in the nest) and would not become a pest in your home, but a friendly neighbor pollinating your garden. North Carolina has over 500 native bee species! For more beautiful native bee photos visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usgsbiml/

Osmia atriventris, or a Mason Bee, is one of many bees that will inhabit bee condos. They come out early in the season, so put up your bee condos in early spring if you want these blue beauties. Mason bees use a combination of mud and leaf pulp to construct their homes. Mason bees separate brood cell in their nests with mud. Each cell holds a pollen ball and one egg to develop into an adult bee one day.

Osmia nest packed with mud and brood. Photograph by Joel Gardner, Wild Bees and Building Homes.

Osmia nest packed with mud and brood. Photograph by Joel Gardner, Wild Bees and Building Homes.

Megachile spp. or leaf cutter bees, will also live in the bee condos. Leafcutter bees fly all summer, so if you get a late start, you will get these fuzzy bees. Leafcutter bees construct their nests with leaf fragments they cut with their powerful mouths, or mandibles.

You can create a bee condo with inexpensive readily available materials. All you have to do is:

  1. Cut bamboo or natural reeds where they are segmented so one side will be open
    Close up of reeds in a bee condo in various stages of colonization. Photo: April Hamblin, NCSU

    Close up of reeds in a bee condo in various stages of colonization. Photo: April Hamblin, NCSU

    and the other will be closed (inside hole diameters around 1/8 are most popular).

  2. Zip-tie 30+ pieces of bamboo and place them somewhere sturdy: on a tree, strapped to a metal post, near the shed, etc.
  3. Painting the outside of the bamboo white and/or blue is a great idea to help bees find their way to their new home. This is a great project for all ages and helps native bees find a home for them and their young.
  4. The bee condos are only good for one season though, so you’ll have to make this a family tradition! Remember to be as simple or creative as you want. Bee condos can just be bamboo bundles, a coffee can, or as decorative as bird houses. It’s up to you and your family!

For more detailed instructions on how to create a bee condo please visit Joel Gardner’s

April at one of her research sites.

April at one of her research sites.

Wild Bees and Building Houses.

I have been using bee condos in my research at 20 homes just like yours to determine how aspects of urbanization affect bee communities and nesting. The volunteers tell me seeing the busy bees fly about their business is fun for the whole family and helps us remember the beauty and importance of nature which is too often forgotten.

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