Solitary Bees

Solitary bees are the most common type of bee. When most people think of bees they think of swarms of social bees or honey bees. Most bees out there are solitary bees that live a solitary life as a single bee in a single nest cell. There are many things that you might want to know about solitary bees when it comes to your home, garden and more.

Solitary bees do not work in numbers with other bees to raise a large offspring.  They do not even live in shared nests with other bees. They live alone, hence the name solitary bee. There are over 250 species of different solitary bees in Britain alone. The majority of these bees live in gardens and there are many things that you can do to help them survive.

Many people find solitary bees extremely interesting because of their strange behaviour around the garden. If you sit and watch a solitary bee fly about your garden, you will find that they really are wonderful creatures to watch. Plus, there are so many different types of solitary bees that you will find. They are not all the same. Many of the different solitary bees that you should expect to see in your garden include leafcutters, mason bees, white faced bees, mining bees, cuckoo bees, carder bees, and much more.

Solitary bees are very useful for a garden. Although bees make people nervous, there is no reason to be afraid of solitary bees. They are extremely efficient for pollinating. The orchard bees are actually used for a purpose of pollinating the different fruit trees. A leafcutter pollinates the alfalfa in Australia and in North America. They are also excellent for gardens.  

Solitary Bee Nesting Activities

Solitary bees can sting you but the good news is that only the female bees sting.  Plus, they have a very feeble sting so it doesn’t even hurt. Solitary bees will not go after you to sting you. They will only attempt to sting someone if they are handled in a rough way. They are lone bees and live solitary lifestyles. Solitary bees do not fly in swarms or gang up on people. They have never been known to gang up on anyone at all. They barely defend even their own nest. This means that this bee is one of the most harmless of all bee species.

Bee "nest" in our umbrella!

(c) Julie-Ann Amos
(c) Julie-Ann Amos
(c) Julie-Ann Amos
(c) Julie-Ann Amos
(c) Julie-Ann Amos
(c) Julie-Ann Amos
(c) Julie-Ann Amos
(c) Julie-Ann Amos

Solitary bees are ones that you can make the most of by giving them a place to live. They make their nests in cavities of wood. These holes are naturally formed in nature by critters like beetles and woodworm. It is very easy to recreate holes in wood for solitary bees to live in. All you need to do is drill holes in timber and place the wood where you want the bees to nest. You may be quite surprised just how quickly they end up taking residence.

Of course, if you're me, they will set up home in your garden umbrella. Yes, really. See our pictures of the industrious little pair of bees we hd in our garden's building work!

For proper solitary bees (not the umbrella-residing kind) here's how to help them along. The best wood for making a home for solitary bees is an old piece of timber like an old fence post. Don’t use treated wood that contains any type of preservative. When you drill the holes, don’t drill them downward because water will sit in the hole when it rains. Drill the holes in the wood upwards but don’t make them too steep. Place the wood in a place where there is plenty of sunlight.

You don’t have to use wood if you don’t want to have a problem with termites. Obviously though, this will not be a concern in the UK. Any type of hole is a perfect home for solitary bees. They like to live in hollow stems of plants, hogweed, and even in bamboo canes. Some people have made homes for bees with drinking straws.

There are many different types of solitary bees that you might notice in your garden. The Red Mason Bee and the Tawny Mining Bee are the most common.  The most common place to find the Tawny Mining bee is in a lawn or garden.  They are virtually harmless. They usually make their nest in the loose soil of a lawn or garden. The characteristic of their nest in soil is a cone shape that the bees excavate as they dig the nest cells from underneath the ground. The female Tawny Mining bee is a beautiful bee because it has red fox coloured hair that lines the body.  

Red Mason Bees (mating)

(c) tpjunier at Flickr.com
(c) tpjunier at Flickr.com

When you set up a bee post or a home for solitary bees the first type that you would expect to take up residence is the Red Mason Bee. This is the most common of the solitary bees that nests in every type of hole or crevice that it can find. It is common for this type of bee to nest in numbers but they do not cause any damage as termites would and they are still harmless. The female Red Mason Bee will use mud to build her cell, which is why she is called a mortar bee. The female has two horns on her face which differentiate her from the rest. She uses the horns to tamp the mud while she is building her nest.

If you happen to have mining bees in your lawn area and children then you really don’t have any reason to be alarmed unless your children are anaphylactic. These bees will nest for up to 6 weeks. Mining bees rarely sting and it can even be difficult to make them sting you. However, this isn’t to say that they won’t.

Ground dwelling Miner Bee

(c) gumdropgas @ Flickr.com
(c) gumdropgas @ Flickr.com

If you have a colony of solitary bees that are destroying your garden then you can try to relocate them by building them their own nest out of wood in a nearby area. The only real way to rid of large colonies of solitary bees is by using insecticide. This is not always a favourable method because it will also kill the invertebrates like earthworms that your garden needs to have in order to remain healthy.

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Comments 7 comments

Herald Daily profile image

Herald Daily 7 years ago from A Beach Online

I know bees are essentially good, but I hate them. Actually, to be accurate, I'm scared of them, not sure why. If they're outside, I go in.

I didn't know that there was such a thing as a solitary bee, Julie-Ann. If I see one from now on, I won't be so quick to panic though, thanks to this hub.

Excellently written. Thanks for the education.


jim10 profile image

jim10 7 years ago from ma

Wow! I never heard of solitary bees. I thought they all worked together in hives. Thanks for the great Hub.


Paul Bee 7 years ago

Very happy to see you covering the subject of solitary bees Julie-Ann, and quite chuffed you use the YT video (2nd one) from my little campaign to increase my solitary bees. I have been at it four years and have never been stung by them, let alone found them aggressive - as you can see I film within their flight path only half a metre away.

This year I have managed - through home-made parcel-paper tubes and hollow plant stems - to triple my population to over 300. Plus Red Mason Bees are great for fruit tree blossoms (when they emerge) and are fascinating to watch... In fact 80% of the 25,000 recorded bee species are solitary, and if you want to know more, feel free to drop by on my blog.


Julie-Ann Amos profile image

Julie-Ann Amos 7 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK Author

You're welcome - I'll be sure the check out the blog thanks!


Maraiya Storm profile image

Maraiya Storm 7 years ago from Prescott, Arizona

Wow. I didn't know there were solitary bees. Quite fascinating! Glad to know they rarely sting people, too. I've been concerned about the masses of bees dying off due to Colony Collapse Disorder (bees that aren't solitary bees). I recently wrote an ehow article about the health benefits of bee pollen and honey, so bees have been on my mind lately and so I was drawn to your article. Glad to know that the solitary bees don't seem to be having health problems and aren't being attacked by pesticides. Very well-written article!


HomerMCho profile image

HomerMCho 5 years ago

Glad to know about bees. Thanks.


Nomascus concolor profile image

Nomascus concolor 4 years ago from A Country called Earth

Thanks for this hub. Learned a lot... and I know how bees are essential to biodiversity. Great hub, voted up and interesting!

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