Honey Bees versus Solitary Bees

What was the last thing you ate? Did you think about where it came from? I’m willing to bet that food was related some how to pollination. Whether it was a fruit or vegetable that was pollinated directly or from an animal that ate the food being pollinated. Most of our food needs pollination. Food is important, therefore pollination is important.

There are many players in the pollination game, bats, butterflies, humming birds and Bees. Bees are our primary pollinators and they are in trouble (click here to ready about why).  When comparing pollinators lets remember that like any game different players have different roles but they are all important to win the game.  This post is here to help you discover the right players for your yard and circumstances.

Solitary Bees are friendly, non-agressive, non-colonizing bees. There are over 4,000 species of solitary bees native to North America. There are 5 species that we deal with here at masonbeesforsale.com :

Blue Orchard Mason Bee

-Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee

-Sunflower Bee

-Osmia Californica Bee

-Texana Bee

Solitary bees are non- colonizing. This means they work independently of each other. Besides mating they have little to no interaction with each other. Every female lays eggs.

Solitary Bees nest in tunnels or burrow underground. The types of bees sold here are all tunnel nesting bees. They choose a tunnel after emergence, mate and begin collecting pollen. After they  deposit the pollen and a small amount of nectar they lay an egg and seal it off creating a cell in the tube.

They repeat this process until the tube is filled and move on to the next tunnel until they die. Their offspring will develop in the tubes then emerge the following year.

They are gentle and work alongside all other bees. Multiple bee species can live in the same area (house). They are gregarious meaning they tend to nest near each other.

Solitary Bees are very effective and efficient pollinators. They collect pollen for their offspring to eat while developing. The female bee carries the pollen and nectar on dry hairs  on the underside of her abdomen.  Because the hair is dry (the honey bee wet carries) the pollen easily falls off between blossoms.

Instead of stripping all of the pollen and nectar from one blossom the solitary bee skips from flower to flower and branch to branch. This back and forth motion creates optimal cross pollination.

Solitary bees visit between  20,000- 100,000+ blossoms per day. That’s a lot of pollination! Comparing that to 50-1000 blossoms that a single honey bee will visit makes them 30-115% more effective pollinators than honey bees

Solitary Bees do not produce honey. If you are looking for awesome pollination from a safe easy to maintain bee then solitary bees are your best bet. If however your primary purpose is to produce honey these bees are not for you.

Honey is a food source produced by honey bees that they use to feed their hive over the winter months when foraging is scarce to non existent. Solitary bees are maturing in cacoons during the winter and do not require the same calories that adult honey bees do. The pollen/nectar collected by the female solitary bee before laying her egg is usually much more than required to feed the growing bees.


Solitary bees are very gentle. They do not have a colony to protect so they are less aggressive than other bees. There is no need for any special protective equipment. Solitary bees are a low cost investment. The necessary supplies are inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes for every budget.


With only a few hours a year you can manage solitary bees. They require a nesting area  (bee house and tubes buy them here) and pollen source. In the spring put out the bees and bee house and let them work throughout the spring and summer and take down the house in the fall. Replace the used reeds and  wait until the next spring to put the bees back out.

Honey bees are colonizing bees native to Europe. There were no Honey Bees here in North America until the 1600’s when english settlers brought them over the atlantic. Native Americans noted that if they found a wild colony of honey bees the white settlers were not far behind. Thomas Jefferson reported the Honey Bee as  “white man’s flies”.

For more information on the honey bee origination check out this article.

Honey Bees are colonizing. They have an advance social order (compared to solitary bees) with a queen (egg-producing female), workers (non-reproducing female), and drones (males- mate with queen).

Each bee has a specific job to perform and they all work together to protect and maintain the hive.

The queen is capable of living up to 3 years or more and produces 1,500-3,000 eggs per day. Worker bees tend to live 6-16 weeks depending on weather conditions. During the summer months when the bees leave the hive collecting pollen they have a shorter lifespan compared to those who winter over in the hive. Drones are the second largest bees in the hive, the largest being the queen. After mating with a queen is over in colder climates the workers will push the drones out of the hive biting and tearing their arms and legs.

The female worker bees go out and collect pollen (protein and fats)  and nectar (carbohydrates- supply energy) which they store as honey in their hives. They collect the pollen and nectar from the flowers, wet it in their mouths while mixing it with an enzyme that will later turn it to honey, and place it on thick hairs found on the back of their legs.

They will then transport their new mixture back to their hive and place it in individual hexagonal cells made out of wax. They then return to forage more pollen and nectar.

Due to the wet transport system and the way they strip individual flowers before moving on to the next flower they are slower pollinators. It requires a lot more honey bees than solitary bees to pollinate the same area. It can take 60 honey bees to pollinate a tree 10 blue orchard mason bees could pollinate in a shorter amount of time with more cross pollination.

Honey is produced by the worker bees. A honey bee will only produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. It takes 556 bees visiting 2 million flowers to produce just one pound of honey.

The worker bees forage for pollen and nectar in a 4 mile radius from their hive. After mixing the pollen with an enzyme (invertase) in their mouths they take it back  to their hive and deposit it into honey combs. Honey combs are hexagonal shaped cells that they make out of wax in the wild. Sometimes a bee keeper will provide the honey comb for the bees to allow the bees to focus more on producing honey.

The honey at this point has a high water content. Over time and with the help of the bees flapping wings  the water content decreases leaving the honey like we know it. The worker bees then cap off the honey comb. The honey will store in the honeycomb indefinitely. Either the honey bees will use this honey during winter months when there are no pollen sources or a bee keeper will harvest the honey for us to enjoy.


Worker bees have stingers and help protect the hive. They are generally gentle but you will need full protective equipment for maintaining the hive and harvesting honey.


Honey bees require year round maintenance. They should be checked weekly to make sure the bees have room in the bee boxes, that hives are not getting ready to swarm, to harvest honey and to ensure that there are no predator problems. In the winter months it may be necessary to supplement  feed honey bees as well.

The initial investment with honey bees is a lot greater due to the equipment needed and the cost of bee boxes, frames, harvesting equipment, protective gear etc..

To read more about the basics of bee keeping check out this article.

From the information above you should have a better understanding of the pros and cons of solitary and honey bees. For low maintenance, safe and kid/pet friendly bees solitary bees are the way to go. If you have more time, money to invest and want your own honey source the honey bee is your player of choice.  Both types of bees are in trouble and will benefit from a home in your yard and taking extra care to ensure their survival. If you want the benefits of both bee species they get along well with each other. Remember the greater the bee diversity the greater the pollination. Get bees busy in your yard!