Empty Nests

Over 150 nest boxes have arrived here at the University of Guelph and I am SO EXCITED!

The Bees@Schools program has two main goals: 1) to spread knowledge, wonder, and excitement at the incredible world of Canada’s native bees, and 2) to collect data which will help us learn more about where our bees are living and what they are feeding on. In order to collect this data, we hope that bees will choose to live in our nest boxes and lay their eggs. Therefore, when a nest * appears * to be empty, it can be rather discouraging at first.

However, as I begin to open some of our nests, I see that what appears to be an empty nest may not be empty after all!

All of these samples were taken from nests that * appeared * to be empty, but were actually occupied!

These deceptive nests held bee larvae snuggled up in a variety of nesting materials, from soil to leaves to what appears to be moss!

Sometimes though, an empty nest really is empty. This certainly is not what we hope for, both as researchers looking for data and as community scientists taking part in a project. For example, the nest that I installed at my house was empty – truly empty – as you can see below.

However, it is important to note that this may be an indicator that there are great natural nesting sites nearby that the bees prefer to use. This isn’t to say that a full nest box means the habitat nearby is poor, but it may explain a completely empty nest box. Take the nest box installed at my house – in a garden with PLENTY of lovely flowers throughout the whole summer. And yet, not a single bee nested in the hotel. This makes no sense because I saw cavity-nesting bees visiting the flowers in our garden all summer, so they are certainly in the area.

Well, part of the mystery was solved when I noticed this leaf-cutting bee making her home in our lovely brick wall.

These industrious little bees will find homes in places we do not even begin to consider. So if you have installed a bee hotel on your property but it is empty come fall, consider that perhaps the bees don’t even need it because the natural homes for them are plentiful already!

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