Right now, everyone wants to kill mining bees. Well, they don’t say “kill,” they say “get rid of.” It’s all the same.
So, what is a mining bee? Basically, it’s a type of bee that builds nests in underground tunnels. Each tunnel is usually separate from other tunnels, although they may live in large communities with hundreds, or even thousands, of tunnels. Similar to a housing development, each home is unique to the owner even though, from the outside, they all look the same.
More than that is hard to say. Of the 20,000 species of bee in the world, fully 70% live underground, and the large majority of those are small and solitary. These tunneling insects are known by various names, including digger bees, ground bees, dirt bees, mud bees, and of course mining bees.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that all bees are in serious trouble, and when bees are in trouble, we are in trouble. The pollination that bees do assures us of food crops, industrial crops, flowers, recreation areas, and some types of wood, fiber, spice, fragrance, animal feed, and so on.
Killing a bee is not in your own self-interest, nor is it in the interest of your children or your planet. In fact, it is stupid. Rather than exterminating those that provide food, clothing, and shelter, you should worship the ground they dig in.
Since there are so many species of mining bee, it is impossible to characterize them in a few words. But here are some facts that apply to most:
- Most are harmless to humans. Nearly all the females have stingers, but the stingers are often too small to penetrate human skin. Yes, some do sting, but the stings, especially in lawn-dwelling species, are light—nothing like a wasp or honey bee.
- They are non-aggressive. The head of each household has to do everything herself: build a home, lay eggs, collect food for winter, defend her young from other insects, and feed herself. She has little time to get everything done, and virtually no time to mess with you.
- Most are active a very short time. After about four-to-six weeks of furious activity, they disappear for another year.
- Like most native bees, they do not produce honey and so do not attract bears, raccoons, opossums, skunks, or teenagers.
- Those holes in your lawn are not hurting your turf. In fact, some people kill mining bees and then go buy shoes with pegs on the bottom and stomp around the yard making aeration holes. Go figure.
- Chances are good that you will not get stung even if you walk barefoot across the nesting area. However, if you would rather not try it, just avoid that spot for a few weeks.
- While mining bees are pretty much harmless, any pesticide you lay over them is not. We are oddly complacent about things we can’t see, but pesticides are poisons and poisons are designed to kill living things. Many modern pesticides do not need to be consumed or inhaled to be toxic, instead they can be absorbed through the skin. To paraphrase Nancy of Shady Grove Farm (commenting on herbicides): “Would you rather have your kids running barefoot on bees or barefoot on Agent Orange?” The choice is yours.
If you are still unsure about these gentle creatures, here are some comments from readers:
- From Dave: “We’ve had mining bees for years. They aerate the soil and do their pollinating. We’ve walked on them, run lawn mowers over them, and never have been stung. I still feel guilty about my first silly and futile attempts to eradicate them.”
- From Stacy: “My mining bees appear for about ten days in the spring, and then they’re gone. They do no harm and they’re a lovely harbinger of spring. My son and the neighbor boys have played around them every year—and no one has ever been stung or harmed in any way.”
- From Suzann: “We have THOUSANDS of mining bees . . . but what an experience! In the weeks they are active it sometimes looks like our lawn is moving because so many of them are hovering. My children have learned to accept them, and explain them to their friends. The bees will hover on their hands, my children run the yard with flip flops on, no one has ever been stung.”
So let your mining bees alone. Who else does so much while asking for so little? Certainly not us.
On the same note, I repeatedly inform my neighbors and people in general that cicada-killer wasps are NOT hornets out to get you, they’re out to get cicadas. Completely benign and not interested in YOU despite how large and scary they are.
Regarding a previous post about plants and how people perceive trees as messy: I ordered 2 free trees from my energy company that was sponsoring energy-saving plantings with the National Arbor Foundation. One is a sourwood and I heard that another person ripped their tree out because it made a mess. I can’t find anything about sourwood being a “messy” tree and the woman insisted it was an awful tree. I bet she thinks it’s especially messy because it attracts bees.
I plan to add a linden tree and a bee bee tree.
It’s odd that some folks think they are superior to nature rather than a part of it. No doubt, she’s a control freak.
BTW, sourwood honey is great. I’d say it’s a perfect choice.
Here is something we just posted about some mining bees in Olympia. I assume it is Andrenidae rather than Colletidae, but have not examined it under a scope and remain unsure of its i.d. We’ve some decent photos but i.d. is not easy especially since I hate to capture and kill at height of breeding — which of course is the only time they can be found. I’ll make one more visit this next week, look for bodies. Glen
A great bee! Wish I could have seen them. With those hairy facial foveae it has to be an Andrena of some sort. I look forward to seeing more photos.
[…] ground. So whereever you find them, keep their patch of ground safe and undisturbed, and leave your miner bees […]
I have a few cacti in plant pots and this morning i noticed that the gravel around them had been disturbed but thought nothing of it as I have pets which like to dig soil.
I watered the cacti with plant food and re-arranged the gravel covering the hole.
However, I returned this afternoon and saw a bee burrowing into the roots of the cacti. Could I have harmed the bee with the plant food? and is the bee harming the plant?
The bee is not harming the plant; it is most likely digging a tunnel in which to lay a few eggs. Whether the plant food will hurt the bee, I don’t know. There are many different types of plant food which contain many substances. Some bees line their tunnels with waterproof secretions, so it is possible the bee might live on unscathed.
I have a quick question. I have ground bees in a 12′ X 12′ area behind my garage. the soil is loose without much grass coverage. The bees are very active right now, so I’m not planning on doing anything to disturb then, but I want to level out the area (it is sloped, but I wanted to add dirt to make more of a slope to my back garage for lawn mower storage, etc) and plant some bushes, wildflowers, etc.. If I add dirt over their nest and plant things, will this disturb or hurt them? Also, when would be the best time to make changes like this? Thanks!
You are right to wait until they cease being active. Then, if you limit the areas where you go deep, you should be able to do your work without damaging too many of the hibernating bees. I can’t tell you how deep the nests are because it differs by species. Some go very deep, some not so much. As far as adding soil, I think most will be able to get out in the spring, as long as the top layer is not excessively deep or rocky.
Mining bees (I believe this is what they are) just appeared in our lawn. I would tend to do nothing about them. I just have one question. My daughter is extremely allergic to bee venom. Do these bees pose a threat to her? Thank you very much.
I’ve never heard of mining bees stinging anyone, but I wouldn’t let your daughter walk barefoot over them or be careless. You should watch the video of the tickle bees of Sabin Elementary School. If you look closely, you can see thousands of them hovering over the grass. The have never stung the students.
If this link doesn’t work just Google “tickle bees video.” I’m having trouble with the link.
I have had them under my roses for years and never had one sting. I have even had one get tangled in my hair and had them land on my arms several times, no stings.
i have 3/4 of an acre yard and the entire yard is covered in mining bees. hundreds if not thousands of holes. the yard looks like it’s moving there are so many. and no they don’t last 10 days. more like 2 months. different parts of the yard have them at alternating times. so the front for example may start up first and be very bad for about two weeks, then activity in that spot dies down, not gone, just better. then the side yard will start up , then back south side, back north side etc.
my 4 year old has been been stung several times. they are not aggressive, but in mass quantities they can and do get trapped in clothing and that is when you get stung. Also, they’ve flown into the house and nested in the plants in the house.
pest control has come several times and only gets what’s flying around so the next day, it’s just as bad. I’m sure there is a natural organic way to truly get rid of them, but those that know aren’t saying and sites like this site say leave them alone. not going to happen, I will spray my yard with Kerosene if i have too and kill everything.
Good plan. It is far better to raise your children on a carcinogenic toxic waste dump than expose them to a bee.
There are many types of ground bees, not just mining bees, and this sounds like a case of something besides mining bees. Could it instead be yellow jackets? Those are ground dwelling hornets that I suppose could be mistaken for bees if one wasn’t really taking the time to closely examine them. I have had similar problems with aggresive yellow jackets so I could understand a parent getting concerned. If there are patches of dirt maybe planting more grass or other plants would discourage them. Additionally, put your kid in a playsuit or other onesie would leave less places for any type of bee to get trapped and panic into stinging. Wearing long pants and socks as well as sneakers is good to prevent a variety of pests from stinging. Non toxic yellow jacket traps are also easy to install. If this truly is a case of some generally harmless native bee like a bumble bee they will not sting unless you harass them, and a 4 year old (or at this point 7 year old) is certainly old enough to be able to give a little space to wild bees that do sting and as a result not have any problems with them once it is explained that is what bees need. Kids grow most healthily if they do play in a natural space with wild animals and plants, they just have to be taught to respect nature and in turn nature will nourish their physical health as well as emotional and social health and their problem solving skills through the rest of their life- they just need a quick sit down lesson on how to respect giving wild creatures some space.
Did you ever find a way to get rid of the bees? I am having the same issue with over a acre of coverage at the home I just purchased. We too have dumped money into an exterminator only to be left with – more bees! Thank you for your info!
In a world were so many insects are endangered, we should never kill bees. Especially ground bees, which don’t hurt anyone and are only around for a short time each year.
@anyone with this problem: if you want to discourage an insect, first identify it correctly… if solitary bees don’t hurt anyone, then presumably what is actually stinging in these cases is something else.
However, I thought some solitary bees can sting if sufficiently annoyed, even if they have quite a high threshold of what constitutes “sufficiently annoyed”?
In the UK, I think a lot of the mining bees go for sandy soil, particularly banks in full sun. If that’s the sort of thing you have, dressing the lawn with heavier loam, and planting for some shade next to it, might help. And perhaps, somewhere else in the garden, you can build a deliberate sandy, sunny bank for them.
That is, try to find out what their habitat is, and change things so the lawn where the children play is not it, and somewhere nearby is. There are a lot of variables, so it isn’t foolproof, but it is much better for every living thing, including us, than being doused in chemicals (which, ironically, doesn’t sound foolproof either). I appreciate, saying this, that it may not scale up to a whole acre, rather than to the sort of small garden I’m used to. But creativity is probably key to reducing pesticide use.
Mostly @Rusty: I think you’re right about not killing if avoidable, and I totally sympathise with being incredibly irritated with people who kill anything that moves by dumping large amounts of noxious poison on it and everything else, but there is a need to appreciate that there can be a real problem with huge numbers of anything.
I have spiders all over my house, and I’m quite happy with that, but I do throw female spiders out if I see they are carrying an egg-sac! They don’t bite or sting. However, it’s one thing to have them eating flies in webs in corners, and quite another to have to brush one out of every cup every time I want to make a drink…
Most four-year-olds may be capable of understanding that if they see a bumble bee, they shouldn’t grab it and start playing house with it as a utensil! But if there are hundreds of bees in a small space, such that the child cannot take a single footstep, or put down a toy, or throw a ball, without annoying twenty, anywhere in their garden, that’s a rather different thing. There’s no room to give something space if it is all over your space at a rate of one for every two inches squared.
A child is hardly likely to be converted to enviromental protection policy, by having all their earliest experiences of playing in the garden, coloured by the total impossibility of not being painfully stung by non-aggressive bees, which are only non-aggressive when assessed indivdually, not with regard to the consequences of an aggregation!
Like blaming Big Ag. for pesticides, it is very easy to blame a child for a failure to respect nature, without actually considering the fact that in some cases, it is, metaphorically, nature that is not respecting the child. When a beekeeper gets stung, does it always, invariably, without any sort of question or doubt, mean the beekeeper was doing something totally stupid? Insects don’t think like us. They don’t have the same idea of what constitutes “non-aggressive”!
It would be helpful, I think, if it was possible to be less polarised. There are plenty of people who will, as Rusty puts it somewhere, “Empty a whole can of flying insect spray pointlessly over a spider.” And it is maddening. But if those interested in insects (etc.) and their conservation are unsympathetic to those who have a real problem – such as a child who is being repeatedly stung while playing appropriately in their own garden – rather than suggesting no-kill methods of keeping the numbers of whatever to manageable levels, we are far more likely to cause those people to go back to big Pharma for some more powerful and more harmful pesticide. It undermines our general credibility.
If when a child is actually being repeatedly stung, we say things which are probably heard as, “don’t be silly, they’re harmless,” or “it must be the child’s fault for not respecting nature’s space,” who is going to hear us when we assure them correctly that some other insect is in fact incapable of stinging, and that they truly don’t need to do anything but tell their kid so?
Back to your first point, nearly all female bees can sting. Stinging is how they defend themselves in their environments, which include all kinds of creatures that we seldom see. However, many bees are so small that their stingers cannot penetrate human flesh. Encountering a human isn’t the normal, everyday situation small bees need to worry about.
Most people are stung by either honey bees or wasps, including hornets and yellowjackets; they are seldom stung by solitary bees or wasps. However, people are scared when they see a bee because honey bee stings and social wasp stings can be extraordinary. I’ve been following a conversation about solitary bees stings that I want to follow up on. Apparently, some researchers have found that humans are not allergic to most of the stings by non-social Hymenoptera. The allergy seems to be related to specific proteins in social insects.
I have some sort of mining bees show up almost every summer..when they don’t show up I miss them..they are always busy and not aggressive but I give them plenty of space so we have a nice co-existence..I was sitting on my porch one very hot dry day and thought if I’m thirsty the bees might be too..so I placed my garden hose on the sidewalk and let it trickle water over the concrete..before I knew it I had a traffic jam of all kinds of bees and even the neighborhood cats and squirrels got in on the act..Life is good when it’s kept simple
I love this story and I agree about the simple things.
Hello, we too have mining bees in our yard. My niece (nine) was playing outside and got stung today. The sting was not as bad as a regular bee or wasp but it did swell up and she was crying. We have had no problems up until today. I thought I had read somewhere that they don’t sting, so I wanted to caution people to be careful because the certainly do!!
All female bees can sting, except for stingless bees, and they bite. Whether they can penetrate human skin varies with the size of the bee. Most very small ones cannot, but some mining bees are quite large. Then too, children’s skin is more delicate than adult skin.
Hi, I’ve been digging out a raised bed in my garden with the intention of lining it with plastic to a) suppress the weeds in order that I can grow vegetables and b) stop the wood supports from rotting, which they have started to do. The depth of the bed is around 4 feet, and I reached ground level only to find a number of miner bees lying peacefully in their little divots in the soil. What can I do about my plans to lay the plastic? Naturally I don’t want to kill the bees. Will they find their way out from under the plastic to the side of the raised bed and out?
The bees will not make it out from under the plastic. I think you should try to move the ones you find to another location. Just carefully bury them in a similar type of soil. All won’t make it, I suspect, but maybe some will.
Thanks for your reply Rusty, I’ll certainly do my best to save them. They do seem rather sweet, at least while they’re all snoozing!
We have had a large leaf Philodendron for 25 years in a large (18″ high) pot that we bring in to the (heated) garage for the winter. It sorta withers with benign neglect but comes back beautifully outside every year. The pot has a 1X3″ drainage hole about 6 inches up from the ground. And that’s where the bees have entered and made their home this summer. They are extremely active every time I look at the hole – constantly coming and going. We bring in the pot before the first sub 40 temperature in October which doesn’t give us a whole bunch of time. I DO NOT want to kill the bees (we put up with getting eaten by mosquitoes every year because I refuse to spray), but they can’t stay where they are and we are unwilling to leave the plant out to die. A solution would be most welcome. Help ?????
Why can’t they stay where they are? Most bees (except honey bees) hibernate in the soil for about 9 to 10 months of the year. If the bees are still active, they won’t be for long. The heated garage won’t make them emerge once they’ve gone into hibernation. Then in the spring, sometime after the plant returns to it’s outside place, the bees will emerge for their short adult life.
If they are gonna sleep thru til May, I’m more than happy to just leave them be(e). I was unaware that they would become inactive, due both to my lack of knowledge of bees and the fact that at the moment they are hyperactive. I will anticipate their getting sleepy before I have to move the plant in. Thank you for your time and expertise – I feel better 🙂
PS: I haven’t managed to get close enough to take a good picture for ID purposes, so I have no idea what kind of bees they are except relatively small and fast. Would honey bees be likely to pick the bottom of a potted plant to set up shop ?? Because of the heavily exposed root system at the top of this plant I would not be able to find burrows or holes but all of my observations thus far have them going in and out that one drainage hole.
I’m so glad these bees ended up with you!
No, honey bees nearly always live above ground in colonies that range from about 20,000 to 70,OOO members. You most likely have some type of solitary ground bee that lives in small borrows. Most of these bees are pretty gentle, so if you manage to get a photo, let me try to i.d. it for you.
We have had mining bees visit every August for a few weeks. There appears to be different types in the nest. The larger bumble type with pollen sacs on the legs flies into the area it appears that it is being attacked by a group of the smaller lighter coloured bees that are constantly hovering over the nesting area. The larger bee then enters her hole while the smaller ones hover over the area. The first year the nesting area was small but it seems to be getting larger each year. They are non aggressive and we enjoy watching them.
The smaller ones could possibly be males waiting at the nest entrances for females. Females carry pollen, males don’t, and the males are often smaller than the females.
It appears that most of the bees have left but I did see a few of the larger ones and about a half a dozen of the smaller. Do they move off and return next year, or is it offspring from eggs in the ground that we will see next August? The latter seems less likely as they would be growing for a year underground.
It is the offspring of these bees that you will see next year. For most ground-dwelling native bees, the adults are only active about two months of the year. They spend the other 10 months of the year underground, first as an egg, then a larva, and then a pupa. It seems unlikely but it’s true.
Hi again Rusty,
I now have a couple of pics of the critters inhabiting my large pot – how do I get them to you? The only email I have is the donotreply one. Just for grins, I took a couple of shots of very different bees which are feasting on my sedum plants in the back yard in large numbers and with great gusto – I’d like to know what they are as well. We are plant lovers and have always had a variety of bees in our yard (including BIG fascinating bumble bees) but never developed any curiosity until the unidentified miners invaded the Philodendron pot. Thanks again for your help.
Look for an e-mail.
We’ve got hundreds of mining bees on the lawns right now – mid September (2015). I’m glad to share my space with them and tell passers-by about them. I read that they are usually about in May, so I wonder what they are doing now – trying for a second brood?
The answer depends on the species. Although most species are active early in the spring and summer, a few species are active later and take advantage of the fall-blooming plants. And you are right, there are a number of species that raise a second round of brood late in the season. You would need a species identification, to know exactly what you have. I’m so happy to hear that you can co-exist happily!
We have miner bees in our school garden (it’s just being set up). We have already disturbed the bees quite a bit and we’re trying not to be too disruptive going forward. They have been busy since March and are still active now.
The soil is very dusty and we’d like to spread a thin layer of mulch to stop all the dust rising as the kids are starting to spend time in the garden for lessons. Is this likely to harm the bees/nests? Everything we’ve done thus far doesn’t seem to have fazed them too much… they’ve moved around us/we’ve moved around them.
We’d like to leave them do their own thing and are happy to co-habit… just not sure what the mulch will do to them… thanks in advance.
If the layer of mulch is thin it will most likely be fine. A thick layer though is harmful. A think layer can prevent them from digging new holes because they have trouble moving the mulch pieces.
I have mining bees in my front yard hundreds of them every year. I was wondering if when I cut my grass (riding mower) 1. Does it hurt them? 2. The holes that get covered can they re-open them? Thanks in advance
They can re-open the holes. The only bees that get hurt would be the ones you macerated with the lawn mower.
I have just disturbed a nest I. I’m sitting in the living room as I’m scared to go out. I noticed the bee going underground and never thought much about it, saw it about 7 times. This morning I went out to plant some plants and while out there the bee returned. It seemed frantic and I realised I’ve moved soil along. I immediately tried to push the soil back I just felt terrible it was flying around me and I had to keep running back inside in case I get stung. But I’ve come inside now as there are 3 outside and I think I’ve disturbed a hive. I don’t know what to do now!! And I feel awful! my neighbors probably think I’m mentally ill as I was trying to stay calm and talking to it saying I’m trying to help u calm down!! ??
Ground-nesting solitary bees are common this year. They often nest near each other, so you may see several at a time. If you leave the soil alone, most likely they will find and open the nest again, or they will start a new one. These bees hardly ever sting, so I wouldn’t be afraid of them. They are concentrating on what they are doing and not at all interested in you.
Actually I was stung twice by miner bees recently when I dug up their nest accidentally. Their sing is quite painful sort of like a little bubble bee. Still we made peace I work around them and they don’t bother me but like anything else of earth they will defend their nest. Luckily they tend to be a solitary bee or live in small colonies like the ones in my yard.
I have what appear to be miner bees in my excavator. Between the tracks on both sides is a long hollow steal channel that has dirt that has been worked in there. I moved the excavator the other day and I had large bees acting aggressive and diving at me in the cab. I got out and could see dozens of these bees coming out of the opening on both sides of the excavator. I usually see these bees more individually and not in a swarm. Don’t really want to kill them but they are too distracting to leave there. Not in a spot to get to relocate. I can make sure I clean that channel out in the future. Any tips or ideas here? Thanks
That is fascinating. They sound more like cavity dwellers than mining bees. What many of these bees like is a long narrow tube like you describe. They lay their eggs in there and cover them with mud, so even if you cleaned out the channel, they will bring their own mud. I have a long narrow slit in my patio door frame, just on the outside, that has been completely filled in with mud. I don’t know that there is much you can do other than turn your excavator into a bee condo. If you are into bees, you can put up one of those nesting tubes and hope they use that instead.
I believe I have these mining bees in a pot on our deck. We hadn’t planted anything in them all summer which is why the bees were attracted to them. I wanted to plant some mums in them now. Is this still possible? Or would I be digging up their nests in the process?
The bees lay their eggs underground and then the eggs hatch into larvae or pupae. They hibernate like that for about 10 months before they re-emerge. So yes, you would be digging up their nests.
I replaced the twenty steps that go down a step bank to the street in front of my house. I accidentally dug into a miner bee nest at step 7 and actually got stung twice. The stings where quite painful lot of like a little bumble bees, but I was determined not to harm them. So I abandoned that step and went to the street and started working my way up. A couple weeks later I was back at the miner bees. They seemed to knock off about 3 pm so I’d work until dark very carefully, I finally got around them and we achieved détente. My neighbors think I’m crazy but I’m proud of the outcome.
I’m proud of you too. Well done!
I noticed bees going in and out of a planter last year. The planter is built around a post of our deck and we are replacing the deck and this morning I was taking the soil out and after I got down about 4 inches the soil was like rock. I managed to chip a chunk off and the soil has crystals in it. This has to be removed but I am afraid there are bees in there that will cause problems for the contractor. Any ideas what we can do?
I’m not sure what you mean by crystals, but in any case, mining bees rarely sting. I wouldn’t worry about them. You can learn a lot from these elementary school kids who call them “tickle bees.”
Mining bees are few in number and not suicidal like other bees, but they will sting if you get into their nest. If you are worried about removing the planter, do it before they become active in the warm weather and keep as much as you can intact somewhere out of harm’s way. Maybe they will relocate.
Not sure what you mean by “not suicidal like other bees.”
I’ve never really been into gardening, but 2 years ago decided to try and make the garden nice. I made a LOT of rookie mistakes the first year – planting all annuals (resulting in empty beds the next year lol) and killing many things so I decided to start again last year, focusing on wildlife. All plants in my garden come with the RHS perfect for pollinators and it’s really taking shape. This year I have an unbelievable amount of wildlife – birds, butterflies and BEES!! Yesterday whilst out in the garden I saw 2 miner bees building a nest on my lawn. I’m so happy my work has paid off and hope they are there for many years to come.
That is great news. The wildlife returns quickly once you give it what it needs.
I have had mining bees for about 7 years, in the flower beds along the boundaries of my home. I know they are only active and flying about for 5 or 6 weeks, as I have recorded the earliest and the latest sightings for each year for the past 3. I have literally 100s of bees flying about at the same time in a tight area next to my driveway, and they really freak out my friends. I’ve never been stung and don’t expect to be, but the sheer number of bees is intimidating. Is there a natural way to discourage their nesting where they do? It’s not that I don’t appreciate what they do, but their location is not ideal. Just walking on that side of the house is just so intense. I mean, I was a beekeeper at one time, and expected honey bees to be flying in my face while taking their honey, but many people aren’t used to the numbers, and despite telling people about the good they do, does not make it any easier for them.
You would have to see the number of bees to appreciate what I’m talking about. Suggestions? I’ve heard of adding a lot of mulch to the garden discourages their return, as they like dry dirt. I’ve also read that they don’t like a lot of water/moisture.
I have visited managed alkali bee beds and I know what you are talking about. To me, it almost looks like the ground is moving like water because the bees get so thick. Most species will never sting, but you already know that.
The best way to reduce their numbers in my opinion is heavy mulch. Now, I don’t think the mulch at will remove every last one, but it could drastically reduce the numbers. What happens is they get discouraged and move to a place where the soil in unobstructed.
If you manage to get a close up photo of one, I’d love to see what species you have.
I beleive I have digger bees in my flower bed and thin spots on the lawn. It is disconcerting to have a large number active in the small flower bed area near my front door. I ran the sprinkler for several days to discourage them (when I thought they were wasps). Now, after a few weeks their activity has diminished.
My question is about weeding in the area. When is it safe to weed? There is invasive zoysia grass that I need to remove from the beds, and I don’t want to get stung.
If I heavily mulch over winter will hibernating bees get out? Or should I wait till next year cycle and heavily mulch when bees are active to discourage them from this particular area near the front door?
Most solitary ground-dwelling bees don’t sting at all, or rarely. I would feel completely comfortable weeding at any time. In fact it’s fun to be in the midst of them while they are coming and going, minding their own business. It’s a zen-like experience. In short, I would say it’s always safe.
If you really want them to leave, heavily mulch the area. If you mulch it now, many will not be able to get out in spring. If you mulch while they are emerging, they won’t be able to nest as easily. Neither time is ideal because as soon as they emerge they start to build new nests. There isn’t really a time when you won’t be affecting the population.
I have built my landscaping around the bees. They are welcome to their piece of my yard.
I just want to thank Rusty and Snaliarter for their helpful replies. The bees activity is over for the season & while weeding they did not bother me. Though I did wait til most of their activity subsided, due to my own concern.
I’d love to hear more from Snaildarter about how you built your landscaping around the bees.
First a word of caution, miner bees are very docile but if you dig up their nest they will sting you. So if have a patch of miner bee nest (not sure about your climate) but here in Georgia I planted azaleas around their nesting area and I mulched around the azaleas. Leaving their area open but obscured visually by my landscaping. They are prized pollinators because the seem to survive when honey bees are killed off by Mr. Mosquito. Probably because they don’t forge over such a wide area with many individuals to bring home hive killing toxins like poor honey bees.
I have to disagree with your statement. Because the world contains about 20,000 species of bees, and because a full 70% of those species live underground (14,000 species) and because any bee that lives underground is sometimes called a miner, I don’t know which species you are referring to.
Furthermore, the species you have is probably different than the one she has. So which of the 14,000 do you have? They are all different, some sting and some don’t, some can be a bit aggressive but most are not. You can’t make the assumption that she has the same bees as you have.
Not all insects are grasshoppers. Not all fish are tuna. Not all birds are sparrows. And not all bees that live underground sting.
Thanks again to you both! This is a great learning forum for me. I am paying more notice to the many bees pollinating in my vegetable & flower garden.
Regarding weeding — I have to dig out zoysia grass that has spread to a bed with lavender, roses, etc. where I noticed LOTS of bee activity earlier in the season. Sometimes the zoysia roots are fairly deep (3-4in.). Will digging to get these roots out disturb nesting “digger” bees to the extent that they will become aggressive? I live on eastern Long Island, NY.
This is another “it depends” question. Some species nest three or four inches underground, while others nest three feet deep or more. Sometimes the nests are single tunnels, sometimes they have many branches or “rooms.” Then too, some ground nesters are large, like honey bees or carpenter bees, and some are so small you can barely seem them, smaller than tiny black ants.
But here’s another issue. Nearly all bees have an active adult life stage that lasts somewhere between four and six weeks. If any bees are aggressive, they are the adult ones. If you wait until the adults are gone (in most species not more than 2 months total) the only bees in the ground will be in the overwintering stages. That is, they will be eggs, larvae, or pupae—none of which can fly or sting.
So by just waiting until the adults die off (you can tell because they’re gone) you won’t get stung by digging in the soil. Nearly all of the ground nesters spend 10 months in hibernation, during which time they are completely harmless. The adults do not live in the soil. Once their eggs are laid for the season, they simply die.
Again, Rusty, thank YOU!
Your reply is really thorough and most helpful. Really appreciate your expertise and cheerful help!
We just purchased our house and the front garden that runs along the front of the house was very over grown and full of carpenter ants/ termites. We treated the perimeter around house as it there was some damage being done. Then we pulled up the garden with the intentions of mulching and replanting some simple shrubs. Now that everything is torn up I can see that there are active miner bees. I am find with them being there but we have to do something with the front of the house. I’d like to put down a weed barrier (newspaper) and mulch, then plant. I’d also like to protect the bees. Is there a way I can accomplish both? assuming that I can, are there shrubs that are ideal for the bees or shrubs I need avoid? Thank you
Almost any shrub is fine, but ground-dwelling bees need bare soil to nest in. Any kind of mulch will likely drive them away.
The problem is that I can not weed as I am very allergic to bee stings and while I can tell they are non-aggressive I can’t risk a bee sting. I also can’t find anyone who is willing to weed with so many bees. I am guessing that there is no ideal situation in which I can protect the bees and the house (bed needs to be clear and covered with cedar mulch which is supposed to be safe and non-bothersome to insects except wood boring pests). We have tried other natural solutions to keep the ants and termites but nothing has worked. Thank you for the feedback.
If you are creative you can landscape around them but their nesting area must be bare soil. Although some species will tolerate a lose leaf pack if they can get through it easily.
Your site is so informative. Here is my question. Several years ago, I noticed that I had miner bees right in the middle of my front yard–the holes cover approximately 300 square feet of yard area. After talking to my Orkin man, who handles insect issues inside our house, he explained to me that they are beneficial bees and that I should really leave them alone and enjoy them. I have done just that. I love watching them in the spring (April & May).
They are dormant now, but I have a question. I would like to put in a 10 foot diameter raised bed to plant a wild flower mix for bees and butterflies. I will simply put two circles of stone on top of each other, which will be about 8 inches high. I will not even disturb the grass underneath, but just fill with a loose mixture of topsoil, garden soil and sand, as per seed planting instructions. I probably won’t even plant the seeds until next March/April, but would like to prepare the bed now.
My question is…how badly will my plan disrupt my existing miner bee colony? My front yard already has a mixture of 18 roses bushes, 2 Rose of Sharon bushes, and a pear tree. Will my wildflower plot hurt them in any way?
I’m impressed with your Orkin man. Surprised too.
As for the bees, the depth of the holes depends on the species of bee living in your yard. Some go very deep while others nest just below the surface. My guess is that 8 inches of soil over the nest will probably kill most of them, but maybe not all. It’s hard to say. If the soil is loosely packed, more of them have a chance of emerging.
Thank you Rusty for your insight. My miner bee colony has been vibrant, and seems to be growing, in my front yard for quite a few years now; so, based on your comments, I’ve decided to just let the little fellas alone. I don’t want to take a chance on even hurting some of them. I’ll find another place in my yard, away from the miners to plant my wildflower garden–perhaps the back yard. Thanks again…
Thanks. I love it when people care about the wild ones.
Me too, II hope Mr. Orkin is using bee friendly insecticides over your whole property.
This afternoon I was bitten and stung by a swarm of little bees that came out of a hole that I pulled a nasty weed from. I had a lot of bites, only a few stings. The stings came from the bees that hung on to my clothing and were probably threatened by my actions. I think they are mining bees. I get stung every year in that area but never like today. When I do dig, there are quite a range of underground tunnels but I never see anything in them. I thought they were from ants. I have them as well. I only have problems this time of year in Northern Illinois. If you email me I’ll take a picture of the hole and the bees tomorrow since I did such a good job of uncovering it. They were buzzing around for a long time. I would appreciate knowing what they are as I do not want to kill any pollinators. Thanks for your help!
I saw where someone said she saw mining bees for 10 days in the spring, is that when they come around? I am seeing some at our power line behind the house on the thistle flowers. Well, I say they are mining bees, that’s what someone on an insect identification on facebook says they are. Wish I could attach a photo to this…
The term “mining bees” is used for many different species of bees that live in the ground. Some come out in spring and some come out in summer or fall. If you want me to identify it, you can email a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org and also say where you live.
I’m so glad I came across this post.
I believe we have had mining bees nesting in our front planter for a number of years now. They have never disturbed anyone, and they have been pretty much left alone.
However, the planter (brick beside cement steps) is starting to fall apart, and my parents are blaming the tunnels built by the bees. I don’t think it’s fair to kill the bees, but I don’t know a safe way to evict and relocate them, or if a bee house (like ones I think are constructed for mason bees) would be beneficial. The bricks and the surrounding cement between them are coming loose, and it’s just a matter of time before it fails completely.
You could try removing the soil in the planter and putting it somewhere else. Most of the immature bees will probably not make it, but some might.
Question: All I read about these bees is stating they are usually around in early spring but mine are here now and usually are here intermittently throughout the Summer. Is that normal? I have a lot of flowering plant like cat mint which all of my bee friends seem to love and wondering if they are just visiting me longer because of all the pollen and goodies. I feel bad they have landed where they did because it is near where we walk for out hose and I am always walking on their little mounds of sand and soil. I hope I am not causing much harm to the contents of their nest. Any help to these questions would be appreciated!
Thanks for this great question. I used it and another question to write a post called “Why do I see mining bees in September.” Hope it helps.
I have found this so interesting and enlightening as only found out this past week that the bees I have are mining bees. They came in mid September last year and are back again now and have spread to my neighbours’ lawns. Will just leave them alone and they can enjoy their little lives here in the UK.
Excellent, Judie. Thank you.
I found a small bee which I believe is a miner bee this morning in my house. Two of my cats were trying to eat it. I saved her and am curious what and how I should feed her, and generally care for her until spring, as it is winter and I feel if I release her outside it could be too cold, weather is currently very moody where I live. I don’t really have any flowery plants I can offer her..tried offering some roses I have from the flowershop for now, and sugar. Internet says only to leave it be (haha) but I am a bit at a loss here, don’t know what to do.
You might try a drop of sugar syrup or a drop of honey. It’s hard to deal with native bees that emerge early. They only live about 4 to 6 weeks anyway, so if they don’t find mates soon after emergence, and begin making a nest, they don’t stand much of a chance. Still, she (or he) will probably feel better with something to eat.
Thank you for the information and advice!!
I have noticed them hanging out at my hummingbird feeders which is another reason to feeders, but I think the most important thing is to have patches of exposed bare earth with no mulch. This is what they need to tunnel in.
I’ve just found some mining bees in our lawn and don’t want to harm them – is it ok to lawn mower over them on a high cut or should I just leave that bit of lawn alone? How long should I leave it alone for?
The bees will be active for at least six weeks, but if you mow very early or very late in the day you won’t kill as many.
I wouldn’t mow at all but I’ve have found that mine are not active after about 3:00 PM, so if you wait to 6:00 and clear any debris they might be ok.
We have a couple of very ugly uprooted trees at the Lost Corner Nature Preserve where I’m on the board and the miner bees appear to have nested in the up-rooted root ball. I’ve persuaded the master gardeners to the downed tree alone at least until fall.
How badly endangered are they? I am thinking to do something to help them over come that by doing something small.
I don’t know of any mining bees that are especially endangered, although pollinators in general are on the decline. The best thing we can do is plant flowers or flowering trees and leave patches of earth un-mowed and untended so bees have a place to nest and a place to collect materials from the environment.
Be very careful planting blooming anythings. Make sure it has not been dipped or sprayed by any neonic class insecticide or you are simply luring the bees butterflies etc etc to their death. The stuff permeates the entire plat for up to a year. Most big box retail plants are poisoned with neonics.
According to the Xerces Society, neonics have been found in trees up to seven years after application.
Good lord, I know they soak seeds in it too. These mosquito services are the worse.
I have a mining bee nest across the street and they are very small. I went over just a few minutes ago and I saw the queen checking on the other bees. Every time she passed by a hole a bee would sit there at the entrance. Is this normal?!?
First of all, mining bees don’t have queens. I can’t say for sure what you saw, but it may have been a male searching for mates.
I have hundreds of bees digging holes in the dirt near my barrel cactus are they dangerous?
No. They sound like solitary mining bees or digger bees, and they are usually quite gentle and mind their own business. They are great pollinators, so they keep the plants fruitful and productive year after year.
Sourwood makes the best honey, period! it is a pretty understory tree with red leaves in the fall, not sure what messy means?
Hi from the UK!
We get miner bees in our front garden (yard) every year and they are particularly active at the moment. We are about to have a new turf lawn laid over the area and I am worried this will prevent the eggs hatching and the new bees making their way to the surface. Any suggestion?
I don’t have any suggestions, really. Turf is about the worst thing for mining bees.
Hiya, we are in the UK and have dug out an area in the garden intended for a wildlife pond but whilst looking around for a few weeks for some edging bricks and a liner for it a whole colony of miner bees have moved in, perfect conditions with an exposed bank of soil for them to burrow into. We are aware we need to leave them alone while they are active for the next few weeks but what then? Will we bury the hibernating bees alive if we lay a pool liner when activity ceases, what can we do? We so don’t want to harm any of them. Could we dig them out and move them maybe? So worried for the little critters. Any help would be gratefully received.
Many thanks Rachel.
The problem is that right now they are busy collecting provisions and laying eggs for the next generation. The timetable varies with the exact species, but generally they dig tunnels in the ground. Then, off the tunnels, they build nesting cavities (nurseries) where they store the provisions. Then the female lays an egg on top of the provision and seals up the cavity before she starts another. At the end of the active season, which lasts about 6 to 8 weeks, this year’s adults will die.
The pupae will live underground and develop until this time next year, when they will emerge from the tunnel, mate, and begin their own families. So unfortunately, once they begin, there is no good time to fix the problem. There is never a time when “no one is home.” You will most likely have to destroy the bees that are already in there. Perhaps, sooner is better than later, so they can finish off their year by laying eggs somewhere else.
My bees are back! <3 So happy to see them again.
That is excellent news, Deirdre.
Turf will be the end of your miner bees, leave an open area if you must have turf.
Okay i think some of these comments are bull, because when i mowed over a nest i got stung 5 times. So maybe some you guys have more positive hippy bees, but mine are toxic and we will sting on sight. I have two of these nest in my yard and they are inhibiting from mowing my yard. As of the moment i am waiting for my family to all get home so i can pour sulfuric acid inside the holes to get rid of them again. If anyone can give me a more humane way of getting rid of them be my guest.
If you have large holes with multiple insects going in and out, they are not mining bees. Mining bees have tiny holes, less than a pencil width, with generally only one bee coming and going. You may have wasps, hornets, or perhaps bumble bees.
Hi my front garden and flower beds are full of mining bees. They have been around for about 5 weeks. They have destroyed my lawn. I now want to pull up my summer bedding and plant wall flowers etc but I am worried i will disturb them and get attacked. Your advise would really help thank you.
Once the adults disappear for the year, you will not get attacked when you dig up the beds because the young bees will be in their larval or pupal stages.
Now that the activity has stopped in what I think is a miner bee area, how wide of an area around it should I leave undisturbed? I need to weed and clean up in the general area to plant.
You don’t have to leave much room. Just go as close as you feel comfortable.
I have miner bees and I was stung once when I dug into a nest. Still they are generally very docile and harmless. If you have a lot of them and want them out of a certain part of your yard all you have to do is mulch that area. They don’t like mulch or leaves, but please leave as many as possible of them alone. All pollinators are in big trouble from neonicotinoid class of insecticides. They need our help.
Hi,we have miner bees in our front ‘lawn’. Following some building work to the property, this ‘lawn’ has become more of a barren patch of earth than anything else. It has made the hundred+ little mudcanoes very obvious 🙂 We wanted to raise the level of the lawn around 4 or 5 inches and were going to put some topsoil on there but I don’t want to impact on the bees. There seem to be hundreds of them, living in the lawn and flying in our leylandii hedge…I’m surprised they like it so much, it doesn’t seem to have any flowers to speak of. Any advice on how to raise the soil up without hurting the bees (they are very active at the moment) or what else could be done that would accommodate these little buzzy friends would be appreciated! Thank you.
Disturbing the aggregation during the active season would be the most damaging. At least wait until they become inactive (6 to 8 weeks from now) and then deepen the soil, if you must. Some may survive, but it’s hard to say how many. It will depend on the species. The fact that you have bare soil is what makes it so attractive to ground-dwelling bees.
I have a wall 6 ft high of Cotswold stone and this year I have a wren nesting in there and of course the usual common bees. However, yesterday I noticed the humming noise was much louder and when I went to look there were dozens of totally black bees busily going in and out. They have no other colour anywhere on their bodies. Do the mining bees who usually live underground sometimes live in walls? I’d love to hear more about them. Kay
Usually ground-dwelling bees don’t nest in walls, although I’m sure it happens occasionally. There are many, many different species of bees, so it’s hard to say. If you want to email a photo of the bees, I can maybe tell you more. email@example.com
Hi Rusty, thanks for a great site!
We have mining bees everywhere (Devon, UK) but a sunny, dry bank suddenly became home to dozens of them last September (hot and dry) yet there’s been no sign of them again until yesterday almost exactly a year later. Fabulous creatures. Amazingly I’ve seen them colonising toxic mine-waste tailings in this part of the world (so toxic there’s virtually no plant life but perfectly graded material) yet they seem entirely at home.
That is fascinating. It reminds me of Mt. St. Helens here in Washington. After the explosive volcano wiped out every living thing, mining bees were one of the first thing to colonize the soil, which was mostly comprised of toxic ash. Bees are really neat.
Also leave solitary wasps alone ,too. Cicada killers look scary but they are not. They will avoiding stinging. They nest in the ground one at a time.
Thanks for the great site and info about mining bees. I’ve had these little guys nesting in the ground near my back door for about five years now. Despite their industrious level of activity, they have never bothered me at all, even when I’m walking by or mowing near them. I wish more folks would leave Nature alone and learn to appreciate the other creatures on the planet!
Rusty, I would almost venture to say I have thousands and thousands of mining bees. I live in a semi arid climate in eastern Washington so a lot of my landscaping is river rock. The bees live under the rocks. Today, July 8, 2020 they are so active it’s almost hard to see the rocks. Maybe a little exaggeration, but just a little. I googled them and found information so I know they don’t sting. I also know they don’t make honey, but do they help pollinate? I just let them be.
They are excellent pollinators, the best. They also sting if you cross them, but they pretty much mind their own business. I’m jealous! I would love to have a big aggregation like that.
I have for the first time mining bees in my UK garden. A few nights ago some creature had made a small hole near the entrance on the lawn. I filled it in. This morning I went to have a look and the hole was massive all the way into the nest. Hole 70 deep and mining bees flying around. What should I do to best help the bees?
Could you set a trap for this thing that is (probably) eating them?
We are due to get a puppy in 4 weeks and I have seen that mining bees have stung young children and are quite painful. A puppy in the garden is likely to trample on them and try and eat them and get stung. Is there a recommendation for situations such as this?
That’s strange. The times I’ve been stung by mining bees (all my own fault for trying to pick them up) I’ve never been quite sure if I was stung or not. Certainly, they can’t sting like a honey bee or a bumble bee. I think you are over-thinking this. Dogs and mining bees can peacefully co-exist.
So glad to have come across your site. Thank you for all the information and advice to your readers.
My front yard has a sandy patch (about 2 feet x 2 feet) with a small community of mining bees. I have avoided planting anything or disturbing the soil this year, but wonder if it might not be a bad idea to put down some seeds for herbaceous perennials and a very thin layer of soil just to cover the seeds this fall. The patch is not protected from rain, and I wonder if growing a green cover starting from seed would be all right.
Ground-dwelling bees often seek out sandy patches that are free of roots that get in the way of their tunnels. I would just leave it bare if you want to encourage them to stay.
I’m just writing to follow up on my first comment (hasn’t yet been approved for posting). I decided to leave the patch of bare earth alone for the mining bees, although it is at the front corner of our front yard. I originally planted some winter pea seeds, which have sprouted. But it looks like their roots are quite fibrous and numerous, which probably would destroy a lot of the bee homes, so I scraped bare the area, back to the original state. Hopefully, there will be many happy generations of bees there.
We’ve moved in not long ago and have hundreds, possibly thousands of miner bees in our lawn and I really like having them around. The trouble is we have a 6-month-old puppy that likes to roam around and eat them ALL. He seems fine, but he literally has chomped down possibly dozens even with our trying to train him out of it. He just won’t leave them alone!! This may be a question instead for a vet, but we really want him to be able to run free in our garden. Is it safe for him to be eating them? If not, how long are the miners active in the summer? It’d be a shame not to be able to let him out in the garden all summer!
Bee vs mutt,
My dog is approaching 11 and he has been eating bees since the day we got him as a puppy. I long ago gave up trying to stop him. He eats honey bees, bumble bees, mining bees, and sweat bees. Sometimes he gets stung, which makes him even more determined to catch them. I don’t worry about it anymore. Mining bees have mild stings if any, so they are not dangerous. Mining bee aggregations are generally active for about 6 weeks in the spring.
I have a question. This year mining bees have appeared in a spot where I planned on planting herbs and leaf vegetables as the positioning of the spot is where the herbs and leaf vegetables will thrive. The question is; can the bees and herbs live happily together or should I leave them “bee” and consider planters?
It depends. Some of the bees may survive, but since the conditions are changing the survivors may move elsewhere.
Thanks for the info, Rusty. I had an exterminator come out and take care of them anyway. They sprayed a bunch of “TCDD” I think it’s called. Worked great and haven’t seen any bees since. Would recommend!!
Whilst we have never noticed them before this year, we have a very large number of miner bees in our thyme herb lawn. Its a patch about 12″ by 12″ and they have nested in all of it, it looked like it was moving at some points there were so many bees hovering. I am not concerned about the lawn, more what are the right things to best help the bees. Should we avoid walking on the area? Is there anything else we should do to help them, there is a smallish bed near them and I wondered if a wild flower planting would help?
It sounds like your bees are doing fine, but more native wildflowers are always a good thing. Avoid walking on it while they are nest building. Once the activity slows down for the year, there is no harm in walking and mowing as usual.
Thanks, that is basically what I did. I didn’t see them leave but presumably by now they have.