We’ve talked about the social bees, and now we’re going to talk about the solitary bees and wasps we have around here. These are the ones that don’t hang out together (unlike honey bees, who prefer to live in large groups). They tend to live a solitary life, and while they may be in groups, they don’t nest together.
Here are some of the ones we have around here: carpenter bees, cicada killer, mud daubers, mason bees, digger bees, sweat bees, squash bees and leaf cutters.
Let’s start off with the carpenter bee, which is often confused with the bumblebee. If you look closely, you can see they are not as hairy as the bumblebee, and bumblebees don’t bore into wood like the carpenter bees do. These bees will chew an almost perfect half-inch diameter circle in untreated wood. These holes will go into the wood one to 2 inches, make a 90 degree turn and go on for 4 to 6 inches.
The female fills six to eight cells, then seals the tunnel and dies. By late August or early September, her young emerge from their tunnel, forage a bit, return to their tunnel (or find a new one), clean it out then spend the winter in them.
The males will patrol around the tunnels but can’t sting; they just fly close to try to scare you. We have a few that nest in our garage every year, and I’ve found just brushing them away works, after a bit they get used to me and don’t even bother. The females don’t defend the nest, but will sting you if you mess around with them.
Mud daubers are the ones you generally find on the side of buildings. There are three types found in Indiana: the black and yellow, which builds cylindrical mud walls which it then plasters over; the organ-pipe wasp, which is bigger and black — this is the one that builds the more familiar tube nest; and the third is metallic-blue with blue wings that nests in abandoned nests of the black and yellow wasp.
Each nest contains only a few cells in which the female feeds larvae a diet of spiders she has caught and paralyzed. The larva will spin a cocoon, but will not emerge until the following spring. They do not defend the nest, and you can simply pick them off and discard them.
The mason bee (also known as the orchard bee) is small — three-eighths to one-half inches, black and very docile. There are about 130 species of this bee in North America. They will put their nest, which consists of a number of cells, in hollow twigs or other wooden cavities.
In the early spring, the males emerge and hang around the nest, waiting until the females emerge. Once she leaves the nest, they mate and the males die. The females then hunt their nesting places, because they don’t build their own (and she may look at several before deciding which one she likes).
Once she has found a place she likes, she begins to gather pollen and nectar, which she will place a mass inside the nest. She then backs into the hole and lays one egg on the mass. This is then sealed off by building a partition that becomes the back wall of the next one.
The female eggs are laid first, with the male’s eggs last toward the front. She repeats this process until it is full and then plugs the front and may go off to another spot and start it over again. Once the larva in each cell has consumed all the “food,” it will then spin its cocoon and enter the pupal stage.
It will mature in the fall or winter and hibernate until spring.