Science in Action!
Who? Girl Scout Lauren M.
Where? Wyckoff, NJ
Pollinator? Mason Bees
After a family trip to France in 2019 where she discovered that mason bees (genus Osmia) are in trouble globally, Girl Scout Lauren M. was inspired to build mason bee hotels to provide nesting sites to aid local populations in New Jersey. Dwindling populations of native mason bees are negatively impacting communities, our ecosystem, and many of the fruits and vegetables we enjoy. Habitat loss and climate change negatively affect mason bee populations, which in turn can lead to smaller harvests and higher food prices.
As part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project, Lauren led a group of volunteers to build these hotels out of natural materials. It took about a week to build each hotel from cedar and then create the nesting areas inside with thick cardboard tubes, wood, and pinecones. The challenge? Organizing this activity during covid-19 social distancing guidelines! Instead of hosting an in-person gathering of her volunteers, Lauren delivered all the materials for sanding and painting, collected the completed parts, and then assembled the bee hotels later.
The bee hotels were installed at the James A. McFaul Environmental Center, a county park in Wyckoff, New Jersey. The environmental center hosts a wide variety of plants whose pollen is used by the miner bees to feed their young. According to Lauren, we can “think of these bee hotels as Air Bee n Bees”, a rift off the popular AirBnB reservation system. In addition to mason bees, these hotels can also provide nesting sites for leafcutter bees, digger bees, sweat bees, and other native bees. A piece of advice from Lauren: install a piece of chicken wire over the front of each hotel to prevent critters from eating the mason bee eggs.
For anyone interested in helping to foster native bees, mason bees are a great option for backyards. They are quite docile and rarely resort to stinging; in fact, males do not have stingers.
Bee hotels will do wonderfully in your flower garden at home surrounded by plenty of pollinator-friendly flowers, and make sure to replace them every couple years because mason bees are more attracted to newer hotels. For optimal “move-in”, hotels should be installed on posts between 3 and 4 feet high. Lauren established accounts on Instagram @savethemasonbees and on Facebook “Save the Mason Bees” to spread the word on how to save these important flying insects while promoting a healthier environment.