Blue Bees are Back Again!

As nature does when days grow longer and temperatures warmer, spring brings tender baby leaves which soon grow big and plump buds with unfolding petals. Wildlife is energized and preoccupied with family responsibilities, and insects emerge from dormancy, also preparing for their next generation.

Blue Orchard bees, Osmia lignaria, have materialized in my garden this past week. They are blue, buzzing, and beautiful.

Having a sip or collecting for a nest, this Blue Orchard bee worked the flowers of Martha Gonzales rose.

The adult Blue bees flying around now are the eggs laid and hatched a year ago. These are solitary bees and unlike honeybees, not part of a hive. Females lay their eggs in holes of wood or masonry and don’t have a crew of sisters to care for them. The adults prepare the nests by gathering a mix of pollen and nectar known as “bee bread” and then lay their eggs on that bread to nurture the larvae once hatched. Each egg is sequestered in its own room to grow and develop, each room separated by a mud-n-leaf matter wall. Female eggs are laid in the deep end of the hole, the male eggs toward the front of the hole.

Mama bee working in a hole. She is near the front, completing the egg laying in that hole. She is likely to find or make another set of holes in which to repeat the process.

Another difference between honeybees and Blue bees (as well as other native bees) is that the Blue bees carry pollen on their abdomens, rather than on their leg pockets or corbiculae as honeybees do.

Pollen is visible on this bee’s belly. The pollen is the bit of yellow seen at the side of her abdomen.

It’s been a good spring for these bees, more activity than I recall from last year. I’ve seen many working around the Martha Gonzales roses, nibbling leaves to add to the nest sites.

These are such gorgeous bees! They’re fast flyers though and always on the move, which is challenging for clear photos. As I observe and attempt to photograph, these bees are blue flashes, sparkling in the sun.

A lucky shot of this bee heading for its nesting hole.

Near this bee apartment, made from untreated wood with drilled holes and bamboo tubes, there is constant activity, flying in, zooming out, and dotting the wood with metallic color.

Blue Orchard bees are used in commercial farming because they’re excellent pollinators, besting the beloved honeybees. I’m happy that they found my garden and each early spring add to its life and activity–and beauty.

It’s easy to attract these and other wonderful native bees to your garden. Plant a variety of native flowers that bloom throughout the growing season; provide water, some shade, and dried wood, like large limbs from shrubs or trees. I don’t stack my wood piles, but lay the wood randomly (mostly in the back of my gardens) so that rats don’t have a safe place to set up their homes. Leave some area of your place on the Earth free of grass and garden so that there is available bare soil for ground nesters. Don’t use pesticides.

You can also build bee houses, too.

While bee houses or hotels aren’t as labor intensive as honeybee keeping, it’s still a good idea to clean out or replace (if using bamboo) the holes annually so that fungal and parasite problems are avoided. There are plenty of online resources and information for attracting native bees and giving them a safe place live out their lives. County Master Gardener groups, botanic gardens, and native plant groups are just some of the organizations promoting the inclusion of native bees in home gardens. Wherever you live, you can access information for your region on native bees and their habits. If you’re in Texas, check out these links to learn more and there’s lots more out there!

21 thoughts on “Blue Bees are Back Again!

  1. Most people’s knowledge doesn’t go bee-yond the familiar honey producers to the many solitary native species. You’re doing a service by presenting some of them here.

    In addition to the fact you singled out about female eggs getting laid further in the tube structure while male eggs get laid in the outer sections of the tubes, another interesting thing in the linked article is that “once adults emerge from the pupal case, they remain in the tube until the following spring.” Imagine if people spent their first adult months locked tightly away in a tube.


    • I think teenagers locked in a tube isn’t a half-bad idea! 🙂 I knew that they were adults way before emergence, but didn’t realize just how long before. I’m about to have my patio enclosed ( a “catio” is what it’s called!). I’ll need to remember next late February to pay close attention to any blue bees caught in the enclosure, as I know that there are at least a couple who’ve nested in the mortar of the outside wall of the covered, soon to be enclosed, patio.


  2. This post is full of interesting information; thank you so much! I know we have the bees in our yard, but haven’t figured out where they’ve nested. You’ve inspired me to watch more closely and perhaps create my first bee apartment.


    • There are so many different native bees, from teeny-tiny ones to great big bumbles. Planting natives really brings them out of the woodwork, so to speak. 🙂


    • I assume that’s where the term “orchard” bee comes from. I didn’t realize that commercial growers used these bees either, until I noticed them in my garden years back and began to read about them. I think I saw my first Horsefly-like carpenter bee yesterday, which is my favorite bee. Lovely time of year!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What fascinating bees. We only have bumblebees and a few solitary bees in our islands, most of which nest in the ground. Loved your bee hotels, perhaps I’ll give them a try and see who checks-in.


    • I love bumblebees! They tend to show up in late spring in my garden, but I have no idea where they nest. I know they’re ground nesters, but don’t have any in my space (that I’ve seen, that is). The little hotels are fun and it’s interesting to see the visitors. My local Carolina wrens also visit and snatch spiders that take up residence. Lots of stuff in those little boxes!


  4. Aw, sweet bees, so pretty! I’m glad your numbers are growing. One thing I might add is that I read that bee hotels ought to be smaller and spread around the yard rather than one big one all in one spot. The thinking is predators (like birds) can come along and wipe out a whole group of bees in one easy catch.


    • You’re right about the size, Eliza. We have 3 small ones and I’m glad that we didn’t make one of the larger ones. I have seen my Carolina Wrens come in for some snacks, but I’m fairly sure that they’re munching on spiders, who also find these a nice place to hang out.

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  5. I’ve yet to see any blue bees this year, but I’ve seen a good number of the native bees with black and white striped abdomens. I was interested in Eliza’s comment. An Eagle Scout built a terrific bee hotel at the Artist Boat on Galveston Island, but its size and its variety of ‘environments’ might have a downside. I should give them a call and ask if there’s an annual clean-out done: by the staff or volunteers, if not by the Scout.


    • My best guess is that no one cleans out the hotel. I’m looking into getting paper straws of varying sizes. That way, I can simply compost them and add new ones at the beginning of the growing season. I’d still have some bamboo (which is easier to clean out than holes in wood), but it would lessen some of that maintenance. Now if I could just figure out how to lessen maintenance on the honeybees…:)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Fascinating information and incredible photos, Tina! I’ve never erected bee houses or hotels; we seem to have plenty of various bees and other pollinators around here. Some nest in the ground and I’m assuming some nest in the hollow stems and leaves we leave in the garden over winter and in tree snags and other natural areas. They are fascinating creatures, aren’t they?


    • Thank you, Beth! Like you, I leave stems and leaves and yes, all sorts of insects make their nests in there. They really are such interesting critters!


  7. Great post, Tina. I’ve yet to see these in our yard or neighborhood. We do get a few species of mason bees, just not these…so far. Now that I am aware of them thanks to you maybe I will start to see them.


      • You could be a Blue Orchard Bee superstar. According to BugGuide there are no pictures on their website of Osmia linaria from Texas but there are from Massachusetts so I should see them at some point. Maybe if I build a hotel for them.


      • Oh, that’s interesting. I hope I’ve identified it correctly. I know that I linked the blue bee info to a Texas Master Gardener’s page and I think I checked iNaturalist, though I’ve caught mistakes with them before. I also use this information from a University of Texas entomologist: But the id’s are more generic, than specific. Regardless, the blue orchard bees are lovely and welcome in my garden. I haven’t seen any buzzing to our bee hotels in a couple of days; I think their season is done.


      • Just because there are no pictures does not mean they aren’t there. They do show some related species and O. linaria is divided into two subspecies so yours might be one of them. No, I did not know any of this until a few minutes ago. 🙂

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