The honey bee and mason bee are both super-helpful insects. Honey bees produce honey and contribute to pollinating crops around the world. Mason bees may not provide any resources, but they are excellent pollinators.
These two types of bees sometimes get mixed up, but they differ in appearance, nesting habits, and practically everything else. Let’s take a deep dive into how they compare.
What is the difference between a mason bee and honey bee?
Honey bees are larger, social insects that live in hives and produce honey. Mason bees have a smaller body and are solitary, using crevices and small holes as nests. They don’t make honey but visit a wider variety of foliage and are more effective pollinators.
Honey bees have a fat body with a set of yellow and brown stripes. Depending on their breed, they will vary in color and are typically covered with fuzz.
Honey bees measure a little over half an inch in length, which is longer than a mason bee which only reaches 3/8 – 5/8”. They have pockets on their legs for carrying pollen, while mason bees use scopa hairs for collection.
Mason bees range from black or brown through to metallic blue or green. While some species are extremely furry, others have smooth, shiny abdomens.
Unlike honey bees, the male mason bee is smaller than the female. Their light-colored facial hair can also identify them.
Some breeds of honey bees are much more docile than others. Buckfasts and Caucasians aren’t inclined to attack nearby humans and animals. Carniolans are more likely to sting, and Africanized bees won’t hesitate to attack en masse.
The female honey bee has a stinger that she may use if threatened. It is barbed, which means the bee will usually die afterward.
Mason bees are a much calmer, gentle type of bee. They are solitary insects without a hive to protect, so bystanders can get up close to see them at work.
The mason bee is curious and will happily crawl over a human face, checking out the new territory. Ears and nostrils are sized up as potential new homes.
Getting stung by a mason bee is extremely rare, and when it does occur, it is barely noticeable. They have a smooth stinger, meaning death doesn’t follow once it gets used.
A honey bee colony can grow to a population of 60,000 bees. They prepare for winter by building up stores of honey and pollen; their goal is to survive the cold weather by huddling together in a cluster and staying within the warmth of the hive.
The honey bee colony relies on a queen bee, which can lay thousands of eggs daily. A team of female nurse bees assists the queen with rearing the young until they can fend for themselves.
Mason bees are solitary insects that survive by going solo. However, they aren’t antisocial, preferring to nest alongside other mason bees.
Female mason bees can all lay eggs and rear young on their own. A nesting female will typically live for 6-8 weeks and lay up to 30 eggs during that time.
Honey bees use beeswax to build their hive. Many worker bees get involved with the building process while the queen oversees the work. One colony of bees may live in the same home for years, so long as foraging material remains nearby and conditions are right.
As a honey bee hive starts to become overcrowded, there is a good possibility they will swarm. Led by scouts, roughly half the bees, including the current queen, will leave to start a new home.
Mason bees live in ready-made holes drilled by woodpeckers, beetles, or humans. They’ll also nest in narrow openings and crevices around homes and gardens. Unlike carpenter bees, mason bees don’t chew their way into wood to build new homes.
Honey bees store honey and pollen in their hive to get them through the cold winter months. During this time, they are relatively inactive, huddling together in a pack to keep warm.
Mason bees don’t store honey for winter, instead choosing to hibernate in cocoons.
Honey bees are well-known for their pollinating skills. They delicately collect pollen in baskets on their hind legs before offloading back at the hive. Almonds, fruit trees, vegetables, and many trees rely on honey bees to reproduce. Their vast numbers and ability to be moved to new areas make them a vital part of the ecosystem.
Mason bees are sparser and can’t be transported to crops that need pollinating, but they are superior pollinators. While honey bees fill their pollen sacs during the collection process, mason bees perform a belly flop to get pollen all over their body. Microscopic scopa hairs do a great job of coating the bee in a dense powder.
Scientists believe it takes roughly 100 honey bees to do the job of one mason bee. An incredible 2000 flowers may get pollinated daily thanks to the mason bee.
Did you know? Honey bees pollinate 5% of the flowers they land on, while mason bees have a success rate of 95%.
Honey bees start as an egg laid in a brood comb cell. It is fed and cared for by nurse bees and the queen. Worker honey bees have a lifespan of around six weeks in summer, but winter bees may live six months. The queen bee may live several years before she stops laying and gets replaced by a new queen.
Female mason bees lay a single egg inside a pollen ball, then seal it inside a chamber with mud. She will continue this process until she fills the nesting area.
Once hatched, the larvae feed on the pollen ball before pupating and forming a cocoon. This allows them to hibernate through winter and then emerge in spring.
Mason bee and honey bee drones both live short lives. They get the opportunity to mate, then die in the act or soon after.
Keeping honey bees can be rewarding. Honey, beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly are all resources thriving hives may have in excess. Managing bees will require equipment and a time commitment to keep them in good shape.
It is also possible to try to attract mason bees to a nesting site you build or purchase. Keeping mason bees is a hands-off operation and won’t require any equipment. While you won’t get any honey, sleep well at night knowing local plants are getting pollinated.
If you’ve got a big swarm of honey bees resting in a cluster nearby, they’ll likely move on within a day. They’re probably resting before moving on to their new home.
If the swarm is in a location where people may get too close, call a beekeeper to come and transport them to a hive. A local beekeeper can also remove honey bees building a nest on your property.
Mason bees are solo insects and won’t build a big nest with many bees. As they are gentle and rarely sting, you may want to leave them be. They’ll repay you by pollinating all the plants in your neighborhood.
Mason bees and honey bees have some useful strong points.
- Produce honey, wax, and other resources for beekeepers.
- Transport bees to different locations for crop pollination.
- Work as a colony to fight off threats like yellow jackets.
- Friendly insects that are great for getting near without getting stung.
- Extremely effective at pollinating a wide range of different plants.
- Getting started with mason bees is inexpensive for bee enthusiasts.
Do mason bees and honey bees get along?
Mason bees can coexist alongside most races of honey bees without any aggression. The mason bee only forages nearby, whereas honey bees travel miles searching for pollen and nectar. Remember that Africanized honey bees will protect their hive against anything that moves.
Summary comparison of honey bees and mason bees
|Honey bee||Mason bee|
|Color||Yellow and brown bands.||Black, brown, metallic blue, or green.|
|Personality||Ranges from docile to highly aggressive||Docile and inquisitive.|
|Sting||Painful and venomous sting, bee dies after attacking.||Rarely stings, much less painful and venomous.|
|Colony||Up to 60,000 in one hive.||Solo bees that may live near other mason bees.|
|Nest||Large, beeswax hives.||Small holes and gaps combined with mud.|
|Pollination||Pollen gets stored in baskets.||Hairs called scopa collect pollen all over the body.|
|Produce||Honey, wax, propolis, royal jelly.||No harvestable products.|
Mason and honey bees are both highly beneficial insects for the world’s ecosystem. They do an excellent job of pollinating crops and mostly go about their business in a non-aggressive way.
While honey bees are much more common, don’t underestimate the mason bee. It was pollinating all plants in the United States before the honey bee even arrived. Mason bees are extremely efficient pollinators for keeping in the garden.
Of course, if honey and beeswax interest you more, then honey bees are required. The bees and equipment will cost more to get started, but the quality of honey will be hard to beat.
If you enjoy reading comparison guides, check out how the bumble bee and honey bee compare.