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Q: This summer we have been visited by a new species of bees to our area. They like the holes bored into the bottom of our wooden deck by the Carpenter Bee. But they are not the usual Carpenter Bee. These bees are about 1 1/2" long. Their heads are black, middle section a dirty yellow and abdomen black. Their abdomen is very elongated making the bee slender in appearance. The pest control man said he had been in the business for over 30 years and had never seen them before.  Can you please help me identify this bee?

Thanks so much.

Sharon in Alabama

A:  There is a relatively new bee in the Southeastern USA that has shown up in the past few years.  It is Megachile sculpturalis, the Giant Resin Bee.  It is native to Asia. Females collect pollen on the underside of the abdomen. She is a docile solitary bee; unlikely to sting. She does not make her own tunnels in wood as the carpenter bees do, so this bee is less likely to cause damage to your deck. Here are some web sites with more information:

NCSU extension bulletin

Virginia Tech extension bulletin

Auburn University extension bulletin

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Q:  I love watching the orchard bees outside my kitchen window, but now my postal carrier refuses to deliver the mail!  How can I convince her that they are not a danger?    I think I need a certified expert to help me make the case to the United states Postal Service.
Laura, Portland OR

Interesting question!  Iíve not heard of a case of mail not being delivered because of the mail carrierís fear of bees.  But then, mason bee nests are not that common a phenomenon yet.  Hopefully they will increase in popularity.  I suspect that the post office trains their carriers to deal with aggressive dogs; perhaps some day they will train their carriers to deal with mason bees as well. 

If your mail carrier and her supervisor are willing to accept my word as a ďcertified expertĒ, I can certainly vouch for the fact that Orchard Mason Bees are docile and pose no threat to your mail carrier.  Orchard Mason Bees, also called Blue Orchard Bees, Osmia lignaria, are a solitary twig-nesting bee.  Solitary bees are much more docile than social bees and wasps.  Social bees, particularly honey bees, and social wasps (yellow jackets, hornets, paper wasps) defend their nest by attacking intruders who come too close.  That's because social colonies have only one individual, the queen, who lays eggs. She's usually deep inside the colony where you can't see her, and she is well protected.  Other individuals are workers, and they will defend the nest, even at some risk of being killed in the process, because they are expendable. In contrast, each female solitary bee makes her own nest; she is less likely to defend it aggressively because she would be more likely to be killed and would not be able to reproduce.

The stinger of bees and wasps is a modified ovipositor.  In social species, the workers donít lay eggs, so the ovipositor is primarily used for defense.  But all female solitary bees lay eggs, so they are not inclined to use the ovipositor in defense.  Because the stinger is an ovipositor, males donít have stingers and canít sting.  Many of the bees that one sees hovering in front of mason bee nests are males seeking females to mate with.  They are harmless.

You are also correct that mason bees are only active as adults for a short period of time, in the spring during fruit bloom.  A few weeks after emergence most of the adults will die of old age.  Only the larvae inside the nesting tunnels remain alive.  They wonít emerge as adults until next spring.

That said, I think that you are looking for a rational solution to a problem that is mostly emotional.  I suspect that your mail carrier is either allergic to bee stings, or entomophobic, or both.  Her supervisor may also be entomophobic, and may be afraid of a law suit.  It is not likely that a letter from me will be enough to alleviate their fears, although it may help.

Have you taken the opportunity to talk directly with your mail carrier; can you be home when she arrives?  Or can you invite your mail carrier and her supervisor to your home at a time when mail is not being delivered?  If your mail carrier is allergic to honey bee or social wasp stings, the fear may be hard to overcome.  You can try to explain that orchard bees do not have the same venom as honey bees.   Iíve never heard of anyone having an allergic reaction to their sting; of course hardly anyone has been stung by them!  It might help if you are standing right next to the nests when the mail carrier comes, and if you can talk to her and show her that the bees are not bothering you.  Try to show her a dead bee close up, and show her what the inside of a nest looks like with provision masses, young larvae, or cocoons.  It might be even more persuasive it you had some children with you near the nest.  If kids are safe, and interested in the bees and their nests, most adults will overcome their fear.  But not all adults.

If you are not able to convince your mail carrier by demonstration that she is safe delivering your mail, then I suggest that you try to arrange a meeting with her and her supervisor at the post office.  Explain to them that these bees will no longer be active in a few weeks.  While they are active, perhaps your mail can be delivered to a neighborís house, or perhaps you can arrange to pick up your mail at the post office.  See if the mail carrier and supervisor will agree to resume delivering the mail after the bee activity has ceased.  If your mail carrier is nervous about returning, maybe you can be there to reassure her the first time that she returns that the bees are no longer active.

Once the bees start to forage, it is a bad idea to move their nests.  They will get lost.  However, if your postal carrier can't be appeased, consider hanging your nest boxes somewhere else next year, far from your mail box, so the postal carrier can't see them and won't feel threatened by them.

I hope this helps.  

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Updated July 16, 2003
Copyright © 2003, Karen Strickler. All rights reserved.