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Wild Bee Observation Box

Wild Bee Observation Box


Regular price £78.60 GBP
Regular price Sale price £78.60 GBP
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Watch the fascinating life cycles of some of Britain’s solitary bees up close with our exclusively designed Wild Bee Observation Box.

Only Honey Bees live socially in a hive, of course. There are around 250 different species of solitary bees in Britain, many of which live alongside each other communally. Some mine into the ground to build their nests, some between cracks in walls – one species even breeds inside an empty snail shell!

This box is designed to enable you to see the nesting habits of some solitary bees through a Perspex cover. The most likely visitors will be mason bees and leafcutter bees – both excellent pollinators and neither aggressive nor stingers of humans.

The Observation Boxes are fascinating for all ages and almost guaranteed to drag children away from their phones and spark a lifelong interest in nature.

The Observation Box

The box, made of top-quality, weatherproof red cedar, is designed to either hang on a wall or stand on a sheltered surface.

It has two parts: an outer box designed to keep rain out, with removable ‘window’ panels to enable you to see the action without moving the inner wood cartridge.

Inside is a two-sided, slide-out cartridge with channels routed to create ‘tunnels’ in the bees’ preferred diameter – each side covered with Perspex.

Overall size: 30cm x 22.5cm x 8cm. Weight approximately 3.5kg 

Which bees could I see?

Depending on where you are in the country and which species are present in your area, the most likely inhabitants are the Red Mason Bee, Osmia bicornis or the Blue (or Orchard) Mason Bee, Osmia caerulescens, both of which build their astonishing nests from late April to the end of June.

Later in summer – July-August - one might attract the equally fascinating leafcutters, most likely the Willughby's Leafcutter Bee, Megachile willughbiella, or the Patchwork Leafcutter Bee, Megachile centuncularis. Both kinds of bees have truly interesting nesting habits.

What might I observe?

Mason bees are so-called as they build mud walls along their particular ‘tunnel’, creating cells in which larvae develop.

Mated females will load up the hairs on their abdomen with as much pollen as they can – often seeming bright yellow in the process. They crawl to the end of their chosen tunnel and create a neat ball of pollen, on which they will lay their egg. Then they will fly backwards and forwards holding mud balls and ‘brick up’ that cell.

They will continue this exhausting work, filling each cell and building a mud wall between each until the tunnel is full of perhaps nine or ten cells. The eggs containing males are laid right at the front of the tunnel and females at the back.

Over the next few months the larvae will hatch and slowly eat the pollen: by September, if all goes well, each will form a brown chrysalis with a fine gold sheen. This is how they will overwinter.

In March or April, depending on temperatures, males will hatch first – as the cells containing the females are laid right at the back of the tunnel. It’s amazing to watch the bees bite their way out through the hard mud walls, the outermost bees first.

The males hang around waiting for the females to emerge, then mate – and die. And the process begins again.

Leafcutter bees have a similar approach, though with very different materials. In mid-June onwards, females will find tough leaves – roses are favourites – and bite away a neat circle of the leaf.

They then fly backwards and forwards carrying the leaf discs in their front legs and stuff each one - with some effort – down the tunnel. Using their saliva, they overlap and stick the discs together, making a cylinder about the size and shape of a cigarette butt.

Into this they create a pollen ball, lay an egg on it, then seal the ‘butt’ with another few layers of leaf discs. This process repeats until the tunnel is full of egg-filled cylinders, then sealed again with layers of chewed leaves.

In late spring the new bees will chew their way out of their containers and the cycle will start again.

Where do I site the Wild Bee Observation Box?

The best aspect is a metre or two above ground and facing East or South-East - somewhere where prevailing winds will not drive rain into the inside cartridge. A little rain will not harm the nests inside the tunnels however.

The box can stay out all winter or, if preferred, in a cool shed or garage until the following early March.

Do I need to do anything?

Unlike managing a Honey Bee hive, if all goes well, all one needs to do is unscrew the Perspex cover when the bees have hatched and wipe out the channels using a damp cloth loaded with a mild 3:1 bleach and water solution. This will keep any mites at bay.

What could go wrong?

Firstly, there may not be the correct species of bees in your area – though as the above species are widespread, it’s unlikely.

If you buy your observation box late in the year you may miss nesting bees as they may have already found a home.

Parasites and predators are an everyday occurrence and part of nature itself – sometimes their own lives are equally fascinating and all part of nature.

Predators like the Houdini Fly can nip into action between visits from the female and lay their eggs on either the pollen or the larva itself. Like cuckoos, their fly larvae will eat the pollen intended for the bee larvae, which will die. Chaclid wasps insert a needle-like ovipositor through the cocoon wall and paralyse the bee larva, which the wasp larvae then eat.

Pollen mites are a likely parasite, carried on the bodies of the females. These also eat the pollen, starving the bee larvae or at least reducing its intake, resulting in a smaller chrysalis. Affected mason bee cells will fill with yellow frass, though the mites cannot bite through the dividing mud walls.

The mites wait in spring for bees to pass through the affected cells on their way to their first flight and grip onto them, ready to start another life cycle of their own when the female starts nest-building anew.

In this case you can – if you want to - choose to gently remove all the chrysalises out of the cells in the winter months, into a bowl of the same weak bleach solution (they are waterproof). This will kill off the mites awaiting a ride and avoid the new bee’s journey through an infected cell.

Keep the harvested chrysalises from rolling around and keep them in a cool dark place away from mice and damp – a stout wood or cardboard box in a garage is perfect.

Bring the box out in March, protect from rain, and create holes for the bees to escape

Introducing our innovative observation box with windows, perfect for educational settings like schools or in your own garden. Crafted by our expert in-house team, this box is specifically tailored to accommodate Red Mason Bees and Leafcutter Bees, both crucial solitary bee species. Unlike many bee, insect, or bug houses on the market, which can inadvertently become mere tombs, our design provides a safe and inviting environment for solitary bees to inhabit for extended periods, sometimes spanning many months.

It's important to note that not all bee habitats are created equal. Many commercially available options, such as those made from cane or hollow wood, often hail from regions where the essential insects we aim to support may never reside. Consequently, investing in such habitats can not only be a financial waste but also potentially harmful to the very species we seek to conserve.

To maximise the chances of your solitary bee observation box being occupied, careful siting is important. Position your nest box in full sunshine so facing south east or south Place the nest box at least 1 metre from the ground. You can place your nest box near vegetation but ensure that no vegetation will obscure or shade the nest entrances.

Comes with fold out legs for standing.

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