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Native Bees & Plastic Tube Habitat

Posted by Christina Kostelecky at Oct 19, 2017 07:03 AM |
An informal experiment conducted by Chester County, Penn State Master Gardener, Tony Buck. I had read that native bees, especially Mason Bees, do not nest in plastic tubes. However, due to my day job of fixing houses, I once observed them nesting in an electrical outlet, so I knew they were adaptable....
Native Bees & Plastic Tube Habitat

Tilted down to prevent rain from entering

An informal experiment conducted by Chester County, Penn State Master Gardener, Tony Buck.

I had read that native bees, especially Mason Bees, do not nest in plastic tubes. However, due to my day job of fixing houses, I once observed them nesting in an electrical outlet, so I knew they were adaptable.

I would suggest that with the ‘madness’ of mulching landscapes, the obsessive tidying of our surroundings, and the negative pressures from industrial agriculture, that our native bees are desperate for habitat. Add to that, extreme warming trends in the middle of winter, which encourages native species to leave their nests, only to find no blossoms for nourishment. Then, sometimes within days, the reversal of temperatures to freezing again - I can only theorize that our native bee population has been reduced in recent years.

Native Bees, Fig1

So the need to create habitat to increase ‘natural’ stocks is really critical. That’s why I realized that if I could establish that plastic tubes work, as opposed to more elaborate wooden, bamboo, etc. destinations, we could embark on suggesting less complex nesting models that could even work for children’s projects.

In spring of 2017, along with 28 people from a gardening club, we built Mason bee nest boxes using wood containers and plastic straw interiors of 5/16” diameters. (Fig. 1.)

Postcards were issued to participants in the hope that they would send back results from their boxes. Only 4 responded and the results were: 0 holes, 1 hole, 2 holes, 6 holes.

However, Tony Buck initiator of the project, also conducted his own trials at his urban small city property in Coatesville, PA, set in a rural landscape. There were already established wooden Mason bee nest boxes (Fig 2.) with bee residents in several locations. In fact northern cooler locations in the shade retained their populations better during warm winters.

Plastic tube nesting boxes were set up near the established wooden ones to increase the chances of discovery by bees. Due to lower populations, following a warm erratic winter, the main point was to establish use of plastic tubes rather than discovery.

Two versions were trialed: the same wooden container version used by the garden club, and a recycled can version envisaged as a possible children’s project. Both versions showed bee residence by June 15, 2017. Bee activity continued through the summer.

Native Bees- Fig 1.1

I think the experiment shows without a doubt that Mason bees and other native species will use plastic tubes for habitat and that this would be an easy way for homeowners and interested parties to help increase much needed native bee populations.

This version to left is the one made by the garden club. At Tony Buck’s property 6 plastic tubes were visibly filled and closed off within 1” of opening. The white paint was an addition to see if it would influence bee occupation by roughing the ends of the tube for better mud adhesion - it didn’t.

Below, the recycled tin can version was set next to the established wood nest block. 4 plastic straws have been filled to the opening. The strange blob in middle of straws is a piece of wood to reduce number of straws. The garden club version is located just above it.

Native Bees- Fig 2

How to make a Mason Bee Nest using recycled tin can and plastic straws.

  1. Cut straws to length, about ½” shorter than can.
  2. Put thin layer of caulk at bottom of can.
  3. Smush caulk with stick or wood piece to cover evenly.
  4. Place stick in can.
  5. Place straws around it.  Push into caulk to prevent back opening.
  6. Allow straws to set in caulk or use another adhesive for faster setting, including ½ hour drying caulk.
  7. Hang up about 5 feet above the ground away from people.

Native bees are not aggressive, but they are bees.

Native Bees- Fig. 3

Native Bees- Fig. 4

Native Bees- Fig. 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use wire, string, plumber’s pipe strapping, or wedge between rocks in a wall, but make it secure because other creatures will pull at it. Slope it down in front a little to prevent rain from entering tubes.

(Straws from Bed, Bath and Beyond: Kizmos Kitchen Flex straws, 125 count, Barcode   0 - 24131 12146 – 5)

(Most native bees live alone, they don’t usually live together like this. But they don’t mind it. Most live in holes in the ground. These are not carpenter bees that drill ½” holes in wood, these bees must find holes to inhabit.)

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