Have you heard the buzz? Friendly mason bees are on the hunt for a happy host to take them in during the warm spring months. Can you help out these wandering insects? Don't worry -- they're nothing like their aggressive cousins, the wasps and hornets.
Set off an a science adventure as you prepare a row of bee homes for your new visitors. You'll test different types of materials to find out which home will attract the most bees.
What type of nest does a mason bee like the best?
- 20 hollow sticks of bamboo with openings about an inch wide
- 20 miniature drinking straws
- Pre-made mason bee home
- 2 plastic bottles
- Thick string
- 3 eye hooks
- Planter pot bottom
- Bundle the miniature straws together with string. Tie loose knots to keep the straws in place.
- Use more string to bind the bamboo together in a similar shape.
- Have an adult help you horizontally cut each plastic bottle. All you need for this project is the bottom half of both bottles.
- Place the straw and bamboo bundle in their own bottle bottom.
- Attach a string around the middle of each bottle so that the bottle can balance on its side when strung from an eye hook.
- Find a place to hang your bee houses. The best spot will be along an east-facing wall -- bees like basking in the morning sun.*
- Have your adult attach three eye hooks to the wall.
- Use string to hang your bamboo, straw and pre-made wooden home on the eye hooks. Each house should be at least a foot apart.
- Place the bottom of the planter pot below the houses.
- Fill it with dirt and water to make a pastey, muddy mixture.
- Take a look at the three bee homes you have created. Which house do you think will appeal to a bee the most? Don't think about how it looks from the inside -- imagine instead that you're a bee. Bees have to think about predators and defending their homes. Write down any thoughts in your notebook.
- Review your notes. Using what you wrote, try to figure out which home the bees will like best. Write down your guess, or hypothesis, in the notebook.
- Now it's the hard part -- the waiting period. To get the most accurate results, scientists sometimes have to wait many years to collect their results. Luckily, you should just have to wait a few weeks, depending on the time of year (springtime is best). Check back every three or four days. Keep restocking the bottom of the planter pot with fresh mud.
- When you have a good amount of bees living in the "bee neighborhood" you created, carefully check the homes. Which one is the most popular? (Hint: If you can't see any bees, mud-plugged holes are a good clue that bees are inside.)
The pre-made mason bee home was the most popular home for visiting bees.
Mason bees know how big they are -- and they also know how big their potential predators are. Take another look at the holes in each of your three homes. The miniature straws are too small for the mason bees to fit inside, and the bamboo sticks are large enough to let in a predator. The only other option? The pre-made home with almost perfectly sized holes (probably measuring about 5/16 of an inch wide).
Now you know that mason bees like to choose homes that have access to light, mud and holes that are big enough for them and small enough to keep out their enemies. What other factors could you test? Next time, you could try seeing if an artificial light source attracts bees as much as the natural light of the sun. Or what if you made your own mason bee home out of material like cardboard or metal with the same 5/16 inch openings? Keep guessing and testing ways to expand your knowledge -- just like a real scientist!
* While mason bees are friendly, they do eat wood -- best to choose a surface away from your home.