Scientific name: Osmia lignaria
Common name: Orchard mason bee, Blue orchard bee
Family: Megachilidae, includes leaf-cutter and mason bees
Nest type: Mud
Nest tunnels used: Prefer 1/4″ and 5/16″ but may use a variety of sizes
Looks like: A metallic blue fly
This bee is much more than just beautiful. You’re looking at one of the powerhouses of the American economy. No joke—these hardworking, gorgeous insects are excellent at pollinating, more efficient than even the famous honey bee. In fact, they’re so efficient that farmers all across the country are managing populations of Osmia lignaria to pollinate a variety of crops, especially cherry and almond trees, which is where the hard-earned nickname “orchard bee” comes from. Rather than having a queen and workers like honey bees do, Osmia are solitary and only tend to their own individual broods. Another way they differ is the way they carry pollen: instead of transporting it on their legs they deposit it on their exceptionally fuzzy bellies. Osmia are one of the few native North American bees used in agriculture.
Blue Orchard Bees coincide their yearly debut with the earliest flowering trees and bushes, which is why so many cherries, apples, and pears owe their fruits to them. These are shy creatures and will quickly fly away if you disturb them. At least their beautiful color makes it easy to appreciate them from afar!
DID YOU KNOW: You can actually buy a hive of Osmia lignaria on the internet…but please don’t! These are a common native species that are adapted to their specific environment. Buying bees from even a short distance away has the potential to introduce deleterious genes and disease into local populations. (And no, they won’t deliver themselves.)