About Solitary Bees
What is a solitary bee? Just 10% of all bee species are considered “social” bees. They form hives with a queen, drones, and workers, and include honeybee and bumblebee species. The remaining 90% of bee species, the solitary bee, nests, and works alone. Solitary bees are too busy doing all their own work to be aggressive guardians of their nests.
These bee species are considered pollen spreaders. Since they don’t live in social hives, they require less pollen as a food source. Their bodies aren’t designed to hold pollen like the bodies of social bees. Most of the pollen gathered on the body of the solitary bee quickly falls off – and on to each of the subsequent flowers that the bee visits.
Many people are familiar with honeybees, which are major pollinators of the world’s crops. What some people don’t realize, however, is that there are thousands of native and non-native solitary bee species that also aid in pollination. Solitary bees, unlike honeybees, do not live in a social structure. Some solitary bees nest in natural and man-made cavities. These can easily be provided with nesting habitats.
While female solitary bees nest individually in naturally occurring cavities, they can be encouraged to nest locally by providing a solitary bee house. Building a solitary bee house requires just a few key materials. First, create a frame, or wooden box, that is open in the front and closed in the back with a roof to keep rain from saturating the nesting blocks. Second, create several nesting blocks (enough to fill the frame). Nesting blocks can be made from pieces of wood, such as small logs or 2” X 4”s cut into smaller pieces. The bee house outer structure and nesting blocks can be made from a variety of common wood such as pine, spruce, and oak.
Solitary bees are easily overlooked but they are known to pollinate plants more efficiently than honeybees. They provide an essential pollination service, pollinating our crops and ensuring those plant communities are healthy and productive.