The Osmia avosetta bee and its use of flower petals
Bees play an important role in the ecosystem. They support the growth of trees, flowers and other plants and provide food and shelter for all species on the planet. There are over 4 000 types of bees and around 25 000 individual recorded species. Most bees are solitary and don’t make honey or live in hives.
One unique species of bee I’d like to discuss today is the Osmia avosetta bee. They are a species of mason bees and solitary by nature. This means that they do not produce honey, do not have a queen, or live in hives. This species is typically found in Southwest Asia. It was first identified in Turkey and has also been observed in Iran, Syria, and Jordan. What makes the Osmia avosetta bee unique is that they use flower petals to construct nests for their larvae.
Over 70% of bees build their nests by digging in the ground. Soil, of all textures, is the most common material bees use for nesting. Some bees will build their nests in solid wood or stem, while others will construct free-standing nests built with mud, resins, stones, plant fibres and animal fur.
To make their nests, the mother Osmia avosetta bee will bite off the petal from the flower and fly it back, one by one, to the site. The nest is started in a small burrow, and the petals are layered in an orderly fashion with the tips pointed downward and the cut sides pointed upward. The petals overlap like scales in both the inner and the outer petal linings.
Once the first petal layer is made, a thin coating of mud (which might be moistened with nectar) is laid on before adding a second lining of petals. The egg is deposited on top of a sticky mixture of yellow-orange pollen combined with nectar and then sealed up. The egg will hatch into larvae and eat the sticky mixture a few days later. When ready, it will spin a cocoon inside the petal and emerge when ready.
Researchers have found that every aspect of the petal nest is well thought out. The floral shells include trapped air that would allow the nest to float if the area were flooded. The petals’ moisture helps maintain the nest’s water content and provisions. Furthermore, the rigidity of the nest protects the larvae from predators and parasites. While the nests may look nice to the human eye, the colours don’t represent anything for the bees as they are more concerned about the texture, water content and water repellent.
And although the Osmia avosetta bee does not produce honey like honeybees, these bees are still important pollinators as they visit a wide variety of flowers to collect pollen and nectar for their offspring. This process allows them to transfer pollen from one flower to another. The Osmia avosetta bee is known to be effective at pollinating crops such as apples, cherries and almonds.
While the Osmia avosetta bee is not considered to be endangered, like many other species of bees, they face population declines due to habitat loss and pesticide use. Conversation efforts include promoting the planting of wildflowers and other flowering plants and protecting and restoring their habitat.
The uniqueness of the Osmia avosetta bee is to show how interconnected ecosystems really are. Humans are attracted to flowers mainly of their beauty where insects like these bees use them to keep their young safe. We must protect these species that help show us the beauty and resourcefulness of the natural world.