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.

Cathy
Reply

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!

Rusty
Reply

Cathy,

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.

Heide Signes
Reply

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.
Heide

Rusty
Reply

Heide,

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.

padugan
Reply

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.

Rusty
Reply

Padugan,

Good plan. It is far better to raise your children on a carcinogenic toxic waste dump than expose them to a bee.

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