Solitary Bees

Updated: 23rd February 2021

Solitary bees comprise the majority of bees, yet they are unsung heroes of our pollinator world, generally having a far lower profile than either honey or bumble bees.

Yet they are outstanding pollinators, and only during recent years, are they beginning to get the recognition they deserve.

Many species can easily be mistaken for wasps, hover flies, or even honey bees.

The largest bee in the world is believed to be a Solitary bee – Megachile Pluto, a type of leafcutter bee. However, some are very tiny at just a few millimetres long and at first glance may appear to be merely little black flies!  Meanwhile, there are flies that look rather like bees, such as the Bee Fly.

Smeathman’s furrow bee.Smeathman’s furrow bee.

Where Do Solitary Bees Live?  Nesting Habits And Behaviours

Unlike honey bees, where nest building and maintaining, as well as rearing of young is a task shared by the whole colony, this is not the case with most species of solitary bee.

Nests may be solitary, or they can occur in aggregations.  There may be different elements of co-operation between females in creating nests and even providing for offspring.

Orange-tailed mining bee feeding on willow catkin.Orange-tailed mining bee feeding on willow catkin.

Solitary nests
With some species, a nest is built by a single female, and with no other nests nearby. 

Despite their name, some species do live in a type of social group, with bees building separate nests close to each other and giving the appearance of a sort of colony.

Some species may even live communally, in that a nest entrance is shared.  However, female bees build individual nest cells for laying their eggs. 

Some, for example, species of sweat bees found in the USA and Canada (Lasioglossum) may use the same nest, and also co-operate to provide for the offspring.

Providing A Home For Solitary Bees

For species which nest in wood and in crevices, it is possible to purchase some very nice, ready-made, sturdy insect and mason bee houses.  Alternatively, you could make one - a simple bundle of hollow canes and twigs securely bundled together should do the trick.

Installing a bee house such as this will enable you to observe the bees at quite close quarters, whilst also benefitting from the pollination services they provide.

You could also take a look at mine - it has been very successful, and by clicking on the link below, you can watch them entering and leaving, as well as mating.

If you are going to purchase one (they make nice, attractive gifts too), ensure it is of durable quality, and won't blow around in the wind.  You also need to ensure the tubes are closed off at one end, and are the correct diameter.

Alternatively, you could make your own with hollow canes.

From Solitary Bees

Note that these types of bees rarely sting, and are actually rather docile. Only females have the ability to sting, whereas males are unable to do so. However, males of some of these species can appear to be quite defensive – carpenter bee males, for example, can be rather attracted to humans who are wafting their arms around! Despite this, the bee is unable to sting and poses no threat!

Here is information about some of the most common solitary bee species:

leafcutter bee cutting a leaf

Leafcutter Bees
As their name suggests, these bees are able to cut pieces of leaf (or sometimes flower petals). They use this to build the cells in their nests.

mason bee peeping out of cane nest tunnel entrance

Mason Bees
Mason bees, such as the Orchard Mason bee, are increasingly used in commercial pollination. Mason bees gather mud with which to build their nests.

chocolate mining bees mating

Chocolate Mining Bee
Includes lovely pictures of a male and female mining bee, mating.

wool carder bee on lamb's ear

The Wool Carder Bee
This amazing bee collects hairs from plants for its nest cells.

hairy footed flower bee female on pumonaria

The Hairy-Footed Flower Bee
I call it 'the hobbit of the bee world'!

ashy mining bee female on dandelion

Ashy Mining Bee
A real beauty!  Read about its habitat and foraging preferences here

black violet carpenter bee on small purple flower

Carpenter Bees
This group of bees, not surprisingly, make their nests in wood - usually rotten and unpainted soft woods. Some types can be mistaken for bumblebees.

nomad bee at nest entrance of target host species

Nomad Bee
This bee is very easily mistaken for a wasp.

carpenter mimic leaf cutter bee

Carpenter-mimic Leafcutter Bee
Otherwise known as Megachile xylocopoides
Watch these videos of this interesting little bee in action.

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leafcutter bee on sweet pea plant sweet peas for bees