Let mining bees be

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:

So let your mining bees alone. Who else does so much while asking for so little? Certainly not us.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Andrena-transnigra
Andrena transnigra, the black-banded Andrena, is a mining bee easily recognized by the black band across its thorax. © Rusty Burlew.

Comments

Anna
Reply

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.

Rusty
Reply

Anna,

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.

Glen Buschmann
Reply

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
http://olypollinators.blogspot.com/2014/05/life-underfoot-or-pyramids-of-beeza.html

Rusty
Reply

Hi 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.

Hannah
Reply

Hello,
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?
thanks

Rusty
Reply

Hi Hannah,

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.

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