Mason Bees, December report

The mason bees did great this past Spring. They've been gestating in their straws in their backyard, where I've pretty much left them alone all summer and autumn. I brought them into the workshop this weekend, for their winter inspection. This involves opening up each straw and discovering if there are any infections: mites, mold, cuckoo bees, invasive wasps, etc.

I bought new blades ("stupid sharp" according to the hobby store) and began the annual 'bee zen' ritual. I carefully open up each straw and visually inspect each cocoon. And so far so good! I count 73 cocoons so far, NO MITES, and I still have 20 uninspected straws! Even at a meager 5 cocoons per straw, I have another 100 potential bees! I already disposed of a few cells infected with mold, but that's probably because they incubated outside, not inside the shed. The cocoon loss has been minimal, no more than 5 or 6 cells. The rest look very healthy. This has been a successful crop, my best so far!

All straws--inspected or otherwise--are in the bee fridge right now (a converted wine cooler), chilling at a pleasant 44ºF.

Concerns: The next door neighbor chopped down his mature apple tree. Apple pollen and nectar are a prime food source for mason bees. Next year they will have to travel farther to get their provisions, increasing their exposure to predators and car windshields.

Bonuses: I found four straws of non-mason bee species.
Two are definitely leaf-cutter, and I've left then uninspected.
One is a strange insect that uses sap (SAP!!!!) as its partition and food provision of choice. I had to inspect that one, and I smelled like pinsol afterwards. They are still in their pupa phase, so they look like white rice grains wrapped in a translucent skein. Super nifty. I put them back outside, but I'm really curious as to what they are.
The last one contains the coolest-looking hippy-braid of leaves I've ever seen. Some insect meticulously weaves multi-cell partitions of triangle leaf cuttings. It is so rad. I can't wait to see what bee/wasp/other emerges from that straw next summer.


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