Mining bees are wild bees that live underground

Once you start studying the pollinators in your garden, you will see many different types. If you start recognizing some of your visitors, you will look forward to seeing those old friends and indentifying new ones. People seem to care more about the things they can put a name to, so I encourage you to spend some time with identifications.

The different species within the genera are very difficult to discern, but most people can learn to identify down to genus. That in itself is an accomplishment!

For instance, take the genus Andrena. The 1300 species in this genus are also called “mining bees” because they nest in the ground. Like most bee species, they are solitary, which means that all females are fertile and each one builds a nest by herself, provisions the nest with pollen and nectar, and lays the eggs. Unlike a honey bee colony, there are no workers, no honey production, nor any comb building.

The eggs hatch and the young bees progress through the larval stage to the pre-pupal stage before winter sets in. During the winter they remain in the pre-pupal stage until early spring when they complete their metamorphosis into adult bees, both male and female. The adults emerge from the ground, mate, and the females of this new generation begin to build their homes in a new underground chamber.

Solitary bees are often oligolectic, and Andrena bees are no exception. An oligolectic bee is one that collects pollen from only a select few plant species. Often these plants are very closely related—in the same family or even the same genus. In fact, some species of Andrena bees are monolectic, meaning they collect pollen from one—and only one—species of plant. It is easy to see that if that plant becomes rare or extinct, so does its pollinator. No wonder our wild bees are in trouble!

Andrena bees range from about 8-17 mm long. The females in this genus can be distinguished from other bees by the velvety patch of hair between the eyes and the antenna bases. They also have well-developed corbiculae—or pollen baskets—on the sides of the thorax and hind legs. Since the males do not collect pollen, they are not as hairy as the females. The males are also shorter and narrower than the females.

Because Andrena bees build their nests underground, they are adversely affected by farming practices such as tilling, plowing, disking, and spading. They also do not thrive in ground that has been completely cleared of vegetation because they like nesting sites that are protected from weather extremes by bushes or trees. Heavy mulch is also bad for Andrena bees because the females are not able to dig through mulch to get to the soil.

Needless to say, insecticides readily kill Andrena bees and herbicides kill the plants on which they are dependent. Maintaining a pesticide-free garden with plenty of bare soil and many plant varieties—including native species—is the best way to attract and conserve most native bees, including Andrena.

Rusty

Andrena fulva (female). Flickr photo by Mick E. Talbot.
Adrena haemorrhoa (female). Flickr photo by Mick E. Talbot.

Andrena (male). Flickr photo by jbaker5.

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Comments

kevin barber
Reply

I have found an underground nest in my garden. they are not aggressive. Also they look like honey bees but much darker in color. Any ideas?
thanks

Rusty
Reply

It’s really hard to say. About 4000 species of bees live in North America alone, and most live underground. A picture would help, otherwise I would be guessing.

It’s cool, though. I’m glad you noticed them and you are trying to find out what they are. If you do find out, please let me know.

Danny James
Reply

Hi. My father-in-law put a plant in the ground Tuesday the 14/06/2011 and when he got up in the morning he noticed that the leaves on the plant had gone. When we sat in the garden today 16/06/2011 we saw a couple of bees going into the ground. Do you know if they eat plant? Would be nice to have some reply on this because it is weird and I have never seen them before.

Thanks a lot

Danny James South Wales UK

Rusty
Reply

Danny,

If what you saw were really bees, they would not have eaten the leaves. Bees take nectar and pollen from plants, but they don’t eat leaves. Some bees, like leafcutters, will take a small part of a leaf for their nests, but they don’t strip them bare. Even wasps and hornets don’t eat leaves.

If the leaves disappeared so quickly, I would say it was most likely slugs or snails–or even deer or rabbits–that did the damage, not bees.

Marlene L. Stumpf Hitchcock
Reply

This is the second year I have had a bee–huge, but docile–does not sting, but butts disapproval. I cannot pinpoint species. 1-1 1/4 inches long. Black with wing veining. Bright yellow furry “goatee” on black head. Thorax has three rows of dingy (muddy) yellow “fur” and black. The abdomen is half the size of the bee and black, hairless or sparsely so.

He is the guardian of my enclosed patio, chases other mining bees much smaller away. If I leave the gate open, he disapproves and flies in and out of it, to my sliding door and back, repeating until I shut it. If a wind is blowing, he is upset and checking each of my moving, hanging objects. I have a large batch of potted yellow-orange pansies that are fragrant, violets, and basket of Gold in front of the patio.

He brought his mate around for me to see one day–I know it was a mate, because he didn’t chase the similar-sized bee away. BEE, as I call him, will come when I call him, and he hovers a foot away from my face. If I have guests, he checks them out. I warn all, that he is doing just that and will not sting. However, when I hired a friend to clean out my car of glass from a baseball coming through, we had the gate open a long time. I sat and watched the antics. BEE was chasing much smaller mining bees away, sometimes several at a time. One knew it was not his territory and didn’t breech where the gate had been shut.

My friend came in at the end and sat talking with me. Neither of us thought to close the gate and he butted her in the back of the head–she was closest to the gate and had used it more than me. We shut the gate and that was the end of that. One windy day I didn’t get my key out fast enough for him, and he kept butting the glass door next to my head, encouraging me to move in out of the wind, I gathered. He tolerates my guests, even if eating lunch on the patio. I cannot see it (happens fast), but he may butt with the thorax and not the head. That being why his goatee is so free of soil? I live north of Columbus, OH. BEE has “pet” status. The same bee, second year!

Rusty
Reply

Interesting stuff. I know that some bees are very territorial and will chase other bees away, and I know bees will butt large creatures like dogs and humans, but your bee sounds pretty darn persistent. I have no idea what it is.

Carole
Reply

We live in the mountains of WNC. My husband used a machete and weed eater on the front yard before we left for out of town. Upon our return late last night, he was stung on the back by what we at first thought was a yellow jacket.

This morning I found an open nest in the ground with layers of “combs” around the yard that he either 1) hit with his machete, or 2) was dug up by a wild animal as we have thousands of deer as well as fox, coyote and bear in the area.

Now I’m wondering what bee is at our front doorstep. If it’s yellow jackets, I’m going to have to destroy the nest as I have children and pets and that’s our main entrance to our home (I’m physcially disabled). If it’s honey/wild mining bees then I’ll have to bite the bullet and work with stairs for awhile until they find new digs. If that is the case, any suggestions on how to help them “move” along without hurting them?

Rusty
Reply

Carole,

They sound like yellow jackets, or some similar wasp, to me. Yellow jackets have combs that are usually round disks that look a lot like honey combs. This is where the young are raised. Honey bees normally nest above the ground in a tree, under an eave, or in a wall. Mining bees are usually solitary—a single bee raises a small batch of young in a small ground cavity. Mining bees do not build combs. Without any pictures, my money is on yellow jackets.

Dave
Reply

We’re about to set up a new hive in our suburban backyard. Our backyard is seriously aerated by ground bees. Should we expect any interaction between the bee varieties, especially from the ground bees robbing the honey producers? Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Dave,

You are so lucky to have native bees digging up your lawn! Seriously, I’m jealous.

The ground bees won’t affect the honey bees, although the honey bees will probably have an adverse effect on the ground bees. Honey bees are hoarders, taking as much nectar and pollen as they can possible find, whereas your ground bees take just enough to moisten their pollen balls and have an occasional snack. It is a minute quantity compared to what a single honey bee will take.

Also most ground bees, other than bumble bees, forage very short distances–a couple hundred yards, whereas honey bees can forage for miles. Once the honey bees use up what’s close, they’ll go further and further in search of food. This may wipe out your ground bees because once the honey bees take everything, the small bees may not be able to find food close enough to home. It’s possible the ground bees may forage on different plants, which would be good for them and might save them. The ground bees are in no way a threat to the honey bees and will not rob the hives. Yellowjackets and other wasps, however, often rob honey bee hives.

Dave
Reply

Thanks so much for the quick, informative reply. It relieved our concern, so we’re going ahead with the plan: adding livestock! Chickens may be next…

Kristin
Reply

We have had ground bees in our yards for YEARS. I have felt they were pests until recently learning of the declining bee population. I’m now, after reading this article and others, hesitant to really pursue removing them from the yard. Is there any way to provide additional food sources for them? We live on the corner of a very busy street so our yard is limited.

Also, I just want to make sure they are not producing honey of some sort that we could use. They are sure collecting a lot of pollen compared to the honey bees I’ve seen in our backyard.

Any additional insight would be very much appreciated as I am now coming to learn to live with, and appreciate, these bees.

Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Kristin,

Ground-dwelling bees, like other native bees, are an important part of our environment and responsible for a lot of pollination, as you already noticed. They collect very little nectar compared to a honey bee. Each female lays a dozen or two eggs. For each egg she collects a ball of pollen held together with nectar. The ball is about the size of a pea. She lays the egg on top of the ball and seals up the compartment she laid it in, and then goes on to the next one. That tiny bit of nectar, along with some she eats herself, is all she ever collects. The new bee doesn’t emerge until the following spring.

Suzann
Reply

We have THOUSANDS of mining bees and I can’t bring myself to try to get rid of them, each year their nests spread further across our lawn, even the grassy areas. 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. The only negative…in the fall our yard is taken over by the American Oil Beetle which I understand feeds off the bee larvae and I HATE the oil beetle!

Rusty
Reply

Suzann,

That is so, so cool. I am jealous. I’ve heard people say that the ground can look like water with all the movement and the sun glinting off the bees. Some have even said it makes them feel “seasick.” Most of the the mining bees are small and, although they have stingers, they are not large enough or strong enough to pierce human skin. Seeing all those little bees is something you and your kids will never forget. And they are important pollinators, so hang onto them.

david
Reply

They really are peaceful creatures. One of our house guests actually was PETTING one this spring!

Andrew
Reply

Hi, I currently live in Germany and I noticed a lot of bee burrows in the yard mowing. Looking closer they seem to be mining bees which I’m happy to have because they are beneficial to our yard and garden. The problem I have right now is I’ve found what look to be some wasp (yellow jackets) and am not fond of them whatsoever. My question is will the mining bees take care of the wasp, or should I try and handle them myself? My dilemma is that I’m not 100% sure which burrows belong to who? Any suggestions? Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

The mining bees you have are probably the type that live singly—each bee having it’s own burrow. Yellowjackets live in big groups. They should be fairly easy to tell apart. Mining bees won’t be able to handle yellowjackets. Most of the mining bees are a fraction of the size of yellowjackets.

tuskytim
Reply

My mining bees come every May to my sweet corn patch. It’s approximatley a half an acre, and this year I was late getting in, and they have taken over about half of it, the sandy portion of course. I traced one of their holes once, seemed to start vertical, then angle or curve horizontal, for about a ft or so. It seems that after a couple months they, (the adults), are no longer there? There are weeds coming that I must kill with either glyphosate, or 2,4-D. I could possibly wait till the adults are gone and the holes are covered up naturally in a month or so.

Each year I till, and sometimes plow the soil, does that mean I’m killing the young or covering them with several inches of dirt on the top of their tunnel and they won’t be able to dig out next year? Why do they come back each year to the exact same spot, or is that the young adults digging their way out, and starting all over. If the adults come from somewhere, where do they come from and where do they go when they leave? I don’t want to remove them entirely, and am willing to work with them, however I need to use my plot also? Your help would be appreciated.

Rusty
Reply

Such an interesting question and good observations.

First off, the term mining bee is generally used for many different species of bee that live underground, so I can’t tell you exactly how deep they go or some of the other details because there are different possibilities.

But your observations are good. The tunnels generally go straight down and then branch off, either horizontally or at an angle. One tunnel usually has a number of branches. At the end of each branch is a chamber where the bee will lay one egg on top of a ball of pollen and nectar. You are also correct that the adults live only a few weeks, then they die. The egg will hatch into a larva, and then the larva will eat the ball of pollen and nectar, and then it will spin a cocoon. In the cocoon, the bee overwinters as a pupa. When I say overwinter, it really means the entire rest of the year.

When the adult emerges from the cocoon in the spring, she first mates and then builds the tunnels and chambers to lay her eggs. Once a chamber is ready, she collects the nectar and pollen, lays an egg on top, and then builds another chamber. She does this until she dies.

So, you see, the adults don’t go anywhere. They are hatching in your field, mating, laying eggs, and dying. Then next year the new generation emerges from the same holes their mothers built. Yes, if you plow or disk the soil, you are probably destroying many of the young. Like I said, though, different species go different depths, so I can’t say for certain how deep yours are going. The reason they nest in the same place is they like sandy soil, which you said you have.

Can you tell me where you live? Just generally, like what state or province? I might be able to tell you more based on that.

Stacey
Reply

I have some sort of either a bee or a beneficial wasp in my yard. The first year I noticed a bunch if holes about the size if a pencil. One day outside I saw the insects. There was a swarm of them all flying to where the holes are and each one would land and then wiggle down the hole. I can walk along this area when they are coming in for landings and have never had them sting or actually come near me. The ones I have seen close I can’t see a noticeable stinger. I am not wanting to eradicate my yard of them if they are peaceful, but I don’t know what they are. I realize that you can’t ID these guys by my description alone, so if I can catch one to get a good photo of is there an email address I can send a photo to? Thanks for your help.

Rusty
Reply

Stacey,

Most solitary bees that live in the ground seldom sting. Many of them have stingers that are too small to go through human skin. You should leave them alone and let them pollinate. They will only be active for a few weeks and then you won’t see them again for a year.

Biky
Reply

My mom got stung by a bee that lives underground; it is black and white. Her hand is swollen and she can barely stand up; her legs shake.

Melikeyminerbees
Reply

I have been obsessed with finding out how to get rid of my bee problem. We have hundreds of holes in the ground and I was worried considering I have three kids. After doing a lot of research I just found out that I have miner bees. I have a new understanding for the little creatures and I feel bad for wanting to kill them. I have a friend who is a beekeeper (in MT) so I have a secret obsession to want to do that. Now that I have a miner bee colony, I can say with some reservation that I am a beekeeper and I will visit my little guys/girls regularly. I am a nerd.

Rusty
Reply

Me likey miner bees,

Certainly if you are keeping them and not killing them, you can safely call yourself a beekeeper. Thank you so much for seeing the light. The little uncelebrated bees of the world provide services to our ecosystem that we don’t fully understand, but we know enough to know they are important. There is some variation among the species, but most of the mining bees are so small their stingers can’t puncture human skin, so they aren’t much of a threat to you or your family.

You are lucky to have the bees. I’m preparing to travel a great distance just to photograph ground-dwelling bees and their homes, so I consider you blessed. If you want a challenge, try to photograph them coming and going from their burrows. If you get a good one, I’d be happy to publish it here on the site.

So congratulations! You are a beekeeper . . . and you don’t need the reservations.

Melikeyminerbees
Reply

I took some pictures but I am not sure how to get them on this site??

Shell
Reply

I have been out cutting the grass outside in my front garden this morning and noticed a lot of what looked like honey bees emerging out of the ground! I had no idea that bees could dig into the ground until I have looked this up…I know there is a decline in bees in England so I’m really hesitant to destroy the nest! Are these bees easily annoyed at all? I have children but can direct them to stay away from where I have found this nest so could I just leave them alone?

Rusty
Reply

Shell,

I can’t give you a good answer. Basically, there are 20,000 species of bees worldwide and 70% of them live in the ground. I don’t know how many live in England, but probably a lot. Many of the ground dwellers look similar to honey bees, especially some of the Anthophora and some of the Andrena. Honey bees generally do not live in the ground, although they do occasionally. Bumble bees usually live underground as well. Many solitary ground-dwellers live in groups or communities, so even though they each have a separate nest, the nests are close together. Most solitary bees are not at all aggressive, and many have stingers that cannot penetrate human flesh even if they wanted to.

Karen Haley
Reply

Hi,

I was weeding today while slowly walking through ankle-deep ground cover (vinca). After I pulled a weed, I suddenly felt a sharp pain on my arm and then felt “bees” zipping all around me. I started to run and it took a couple minutes to shake the bees! I was stung several times on both arms (and it killed!).

When I went back to the ground cover to figure what kind of bees they were, I saw several buzzing around the ground, some of them seemed to be slowly flying back into the area under the ground cover. I couldn’t get one to stay still for a picture with my cell phone, but they did NOT look like wasps and definitely were not yellowjackets. The best way to describe them were maybe somewhat like a honey bee?? Maybe a little darker? I googled about “ground” bees and most websites say that they are not aggressive and rarely sting. This bee was aggressive! What do you think it could be? If it’s native, I don’t want to hurt/remove them… its in an area where not many people go. Just curious… love nature!

Rusty
Reply

Hi Karen,

I’m just guessing, of course, because I can’t see the bee. But if it looks a lot like a honey bee–generally the same size and shape–it could be an Anthophora or maybe an Andrena. Both types live in the ground. Anthophora are often confused with honey bees. These are large groups of bees with many species. Most are gentle most of the time, but if they get riled up they can definitely sting, especially the larger ones. The very small ones usually are not strong enough to penetrate human skin.

You probably got close to an aggregation of nests. These bees are solitary ground dwellers, but although each bee has her own nest they often live in groups or communities. The other possibility is some type of ground-dwelling wasp. Some of the less familiar wasps and bees are very difficult to distinguish in the field. Not only that, but many solitary wasps have evolved to imitate the appearance of bees. This is so they can easily invade the bee’s nest and lay their eggs there.

At any rate, I’m glad you are willing to let them live. Most of these solitary bees and wasps are active for only a few weeks a year and then you won’t see them again until the same time next year.

mary
Reply

This morning I noticed a hole in my garden under my lavender bush. Something had been digging, there were bees flying around obviously unhappy. As I was putting the soil back the bees kept chasing me away. I know there are bees that live underground but from what I have read they don’t produce large amounts of honey. What animal would want to get at their nests? I do have skunks that frequently visit my yard, could it have been them and what were they looking for?

Rusty
Reply

Mary,

When mammals invade bee nests–and this includes big ones like bears–they are not looking for honey as much as bee larvae. The larvae (the grub stage) are extremely high in protein and are an excellent food source. It could have been a skunk, or even something smaller, that was looking for bee larvae. The larvae are plentiful this time of year, so it would not surprise me at all.

Maureen
Reply

I discovered a hole the size of a basketball where some animal had unearthed a nest. On the ground were large pieces of combs that appear empty. Bees are still coming in & out of this hole from deeper in the ground. Will the bees dig out if I fill in the hole? Did the animal excavation eliminate the survival of this particular nest?

Rusty
Reply

Maureen,

To me it sounds like a wasp nest. Are the combs round like plates or some other shape? If the insects are still coming in and out, they may be able to recover from the attack. If you fill the hole too tightly, they will likely become trapped. If you fill it loosely, they can probably dig through it. If they are wasps, and if you live in a place with cold winters, the colony will die out with the first freeze.

Karen
Reply

While mowing today, I discovered a large hole in my yard, at least as big as a softball, with many., many little bees going in and out of the hole. They are not yellow jackets or sweat bees. One of the little buggers stung me through my thin top! I don’t want to destroy them, but I have to mow there or it will be a jungle! I live in Kentucky. Do you have any advice?? Can you send an email to me to help me decide what to do?

Rusty
Reply

Karen,

It sounds like a semi-social bee that is using a common entrance area. I’m guessing they have individual nests coming off separate tunnels under the ground. Or it may be a primitively eusocial type of bee. In any case, fully 70% of the 20,000 species of bee live underground, so it is difficult to say what it is. You say it’s not a sweat bee, although I am less sure of that. There are something like 500 species of sweat bee in North America. They are very different from each other and many of them have some degree of sociality, like what you describe.

These bees are important pollinators and part of a healthy ecosystem, so it makes no sense to destroy them. The nest will soon go inactive as cold weather approaches. Put on some heavier clothes and just mow over it. Or mow around that area. Sometimes conserving valuable resources causes some amount of inconvenience in our lives, but imagine where we would be without them.

Arya
Reply

In my chili pepper field (Indonesia), there are some insect like bees. It’s black, digging on soil, making its home inside, eating caterpillar that eat my chili leaf (HELP ME A LOT). It’s solitary I think, but many of them, hundred maybe thousand. Soil that it dig have some like earth worms shit, it’s also like heat of sun, because on field full of weed (shade from sun), the population is small, it’s also pollinate my chili. That bee resist Deltamethrin, Chlorpyrifos, Imidacloprid, Abamectin, and even tobacco leaves extract, because it’s population growing even when I spray my chili field against leaf mites (on recommended dosage of course), but sadly, it’s gone if raining. It’s not aggressive even when walked near them (but of course who want to touch them!), is that a real bee family or some kind of other beneficial bugs??? Help me please. Oh yeah, it is sized around 1,5 cm long.

Rusty
Reply

Arya,

It’s impossible for me to say for sure, but if it looks like a bee, burrows in the soil, lives in communities, likes full sun, pollinates chilis, and eats caterpillars, my guess it that it is some type of wasp. It’s not a bee if it eats caterpillars. That you have any living thing in your field is a miracle, given your spray regimen.

osacar.viera
Reply

cuando se estraee la miel de estas abejas de la tierra. o conocida como merino aca en la campaña .

Rusty
Reply

Mining bees are not honey bees and they do not produce honey that can be harvested. They just mix nectar with pollen.

Stacy
Reply

Hi!
Thank you for this wonderful information. I have a question–can I put rocks down on top of where the mining bees came out this spring? Will the bees be ok? I will leave spaces between the rocks for them to get in and out, but it won’t be the stretch of dirt that was there before. (I won’t use gravel; the rocks are softball-to-basketball sized.) And once the bees have come out of their holes and stopped buzzing around, is that the time to put the rocks down? Thank you!

Rusty
Reply

Stacy,

Is that like Monmouth College in NJ?

Bees definitely like areas of bare dirt, but as long as you leave space between the stones I think they will be okay. It depends to some extent on the type of bee you have. Some nest randomly, wherever they find room. Others like to build large, extended communities where they benefit from each others ability to find off intruders.

As soon as they emerge they will mate and start to build more nests. So as they are emerging is probably the best time to add the rocks. At least you know where the old and new openings are so you won’t cover them up.

Stacy
Reply

That’s Monmouth College as in Monmouth, Illinois. The same Scottish Presbyterians who founded Monmouth College (now Monmouth University) in New Jersey kept moving west and founded Monmouth College out here in the prairie, where, apparently, mining bees are very happy!

Thank you so much for your helpful response. I will get out there this coming weekend to try to reposition the rocks selectively and decoratively! I really, really, really appreciate the quick and useful answer to my question. I have been very worried about those bees, who have been living here for at least nine years. Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Thanks Stacy! I once took a writing course at Monmouth College (it was college at the time) in NJ, so I was wondering. Enjoyed the history lesson!

Matt Maynard
Reply

So I just bought a house and it became spring and I got a bunch of bees that have taken over my side yard with a bunch of holes in the ground that they are going into. I want to know how can I get rid of them? I have kids and don’t want them to not be able to play in the yard.

Rusty
Reply

Matt,

You are so lucky to have native bees in your yard! What an asset! Please don’t kill them.

I’m sure you’ve heard that bees are in trouble all over the world and we have to do everything possible to save the ones we have left. Most solitary mining bees do not sting or sting only lightly. They are not dangerous, and they are active only a few weeks per year. It depends on the species but, most probably, at the end of a month or so, you won’t see them again until next year.

Rather than keep your kids away, show them the holes and explain that by pollinating the flowers, bees allow seeds to be formed and plants to grow, including the plants we eat. I don’t know the age of your kids, but if they are school age, they will be the most popular kids in town once their friends know they have mining bees.

Your kids face many greater risks than those posed by bees: riding in a car, crossing the road, exposure to pathogens at school, riding bicycles, even falling off a curb are all more dangerous.

Please see the bees as an opportunity: a learning experience for the kids, a chance to better the environment, and most importantly, a way that you can do your part to help the bees.

Dave
Reply

Rusty’s right. 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.

Stacy
Reply

Dave–True! 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.

Matt, I hope you can find a way to co-exist. If you don’t use that part of the yard for a week or so, it should be ok, in my experience.

Aarin
Reply

I am glad I came across your website. We have mining bees that have grown to cover a good percentage of our yard. We were thinking of spraying pesticide to get rid of them because we have children. We have educated them and assure them they are harmless but with a special needs child afraid of bugs she becomes frantic and has anxity attacks. Hopefully we can ease her fears because I believe they are more beneficial as neighbor’s after reading your blog.

Rusty
Reply

Aarin,

I’m so glad you will let the mining bees live; they are much safer than pesticides for your kids.

Sue
Reply

Hi,

I live in east Tennessee and I think I have these mining bees as well. They show up in the spring and are gone by summer, their are holes in the ground, and they fly close to the ground. They don’t seem to be aggressive as I too have walked through them and mowed over them, etc.

I was concerned they might be Africanized honeybees but they all seem to do their own thing. I tried to take a picture of them but they have proved to move too fast for me to snap a picture. They have gotten into my greenhouse and unfortunately can’t seem to find their way out, so I have a lot of dead ones lying about. I can’t help that problem even when I try to catch them to put them out the door or through the ceiling window.

Glad to know these bees are not dangerous.

Rusty
Reply

Sue,

I’m glad you mentioned that they fly low to the ground because that is a good way to know they are mining bees. As someone else remarked, the ground almost appears to move when they are at their most prolific. I’m very happy to hear you are letting them live; they are great pollinators and part of a healthy ecosystem.

Heather A
Reply

Thanks for the info. My garden has an abundance of these and my son is allergic to bee stings. He’s been scared to go through our front door, so knowing they aren’t aggressive helps him. I worked in my garden the other day and didn’t have any trouble or aggression though I was in close proximity to them and their tunnels.

Rusty
Reply

Heather,

Here’s another post on mining bees. It includes comments from other people, like you, who have lots of them.

Mary Kate
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Thank you so much for this information! It’s a relief to know they’re not aggressive. I’m pretty sure I have mining need as well, but the hive entrance is in my new garden, right next to where I wanted to put some plants in. It’s strange that they don’t do well in areas without vegetation because the garden is just a big patch of dirt at the moment. Are their tunnels deep enough that I can dig to plant? I want to make a nice garden but now I’m afraid to dig in it.

Rusty
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The tunnels are usually about a foot deep, although some species go much deeper. However, they don’t hive a hive or a hive entrance, they have individual holes. Some species share tunnels, but it is definitely not a hive in the usual sense. They do well in areas where there are few plant roots to get in the way.

Ann
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I discovered a nest of small bees in a large pot containing a very large Queen Kimberly fern. I was watering the fern and one or two bees attacked my hands. The stings were very painful causing my hand to swell for several days and itch. How do I get the bees to move to the ground where they would be happier?

Rusty
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Ann,

It sounds like the bees are happy where they are but that you would be happier if they moved. Am I right? They probably like the moisture you add to the soil. Is the pot outside? It sounds like they might be solitary wasps instead of bees, but I can’t tell from here. You can wait and do nothing because they are only active a short time during the year. You could replant the fern in the ground while wearing protective clothing. You could dig out the soil around the fern, put it in the garden, and replace the soil in the pot. You can water the fern while standing further away. Bees and wasps are an important part of our ecosystem; don’t be too hard on them.

Kathy
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Two years ago on July 4th we had a swarm of bees that we heard flying our way for at least five minutes take residence in a birdhouse in our backyard. There were thousands of bees. It was amazing to hear them from a distance. We all sat back and said, “what is that sound” and within minutes they were in our yard.

Today, EXACTLY two years later, they swarmed back to the exact same spot. We have owls nest in that bird house every year and can’t figure this out… This time around as my son went out to take a picture of the swarm, they attacked him and he was bitten. Last time around they were very docile.

We also have mining bees in the front yard. They built what looked like honeycombs in the front yard where the water meter is. Of course the water company pulled them out and threw them in the yard… We didn’t know….til we saw the combs on the ground….

My question: since they attacked my son do we need to be concerned that they could be Africanized since we live in Florida??? Also, will they keep coming back to the birdhouse on this day every year??? I am stunned that exactly two years later they came back to the same house after we took that house apart and got it ready for the owls return. I have to say that it is an amazing sight to see hundreds of bees swarm and just cover over a huge area and take it over.

Having seen this twice I would like to know where I can look for more information about bees and their habits. Thanks for taking the time to read my email and any and all advice is greatly appreciated. Happy bee-keeping.

Oh, if I got one of those boxes that beekeepers have, would the bees move to there, or stay in the bird house??? Where would I get a bee house, if the bees would move to there???

Rusty
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Kathy,

Wow, lots of questions. Did you write last year about the bees in the owl house? Someone did. Anyway, here goes.

You say your son was attacked, but you don’t describe how badly he was stung. If the bees were Africanized, I expect you would know it because the stings can be in the hundreds and the bees just don’t quit. Normal honey bees can be aggressive, chase, and sting, but most people—even in a bad situation—wouldn’t get more than a dozen or so stings.

From your description, it sounds like the insects in the water meter box were actually wasps. Round combs that look like plates which are found underground like that are usually made by wasps, not bees. Certainly they are not mining bees as mining bees dig little tunnels in the dirt, just wide enough for one bee and they don’t build large combs.

The bees in your owl box are not the same bees that were there last year. In fact, most of the adult workers and all the adult males live fairly short life spans of about 4 to 6 weeks. The queens can live much longer, but it is a very low probability that she is the same either. But once a structure is used for a bee hive, the spot is extremely attractive to other swarms. The bees can pick up the scent of an old hive even years later, so it is no surprise that your owl house was repopulated. What happened to last year’s group?

To learn more about honey bees and beekeeping I recommend you contact a local beekeepers club. You can go to meetings and learn about bees, equipment, and technique. You can also learn where to buy hives and someone may help you get started if you are interested. By the way, you or someone else would have to move the bees from the owl house to the new bee hive.

Steve
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We have cherished our mining bees for years. This morning my granddaughter asked, “Grandpa, exactly how can a little bee dig the tunnels they live in?” Do you know?

Rusty
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Steve,

This is a great question and deserves a detailed answer. Please be patient, it’s on my list.

Camille
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I too have bees in my potted fern on the deck. It started off with a few in early summer now there are lots of bees. They fly very fast so I can’t even take a picture; when they fly out of the pot they fly straight up in the air. They seem to get agitated when anyone sits in the seating area near the fern. No one has been stung yet but it seems inevitable.

I have 2 small children and I have them stay away from that area. They’re starting to swarm. I want my deck back. They have been going strong since late May. Like the advise given to Ann with a similar issue. Are there any other options?

Camille

Rusty
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Camille,

You say “when they fly out of the pot they fly straight up in the air.” If that’s the case, it doesn’t sound likely that anyone will get stung unless they were hovering over the plant somehow. Even then, most ground-dwelling bees don’t often sting. Can you move the fern off the deck? That would be my first choice.

Ann
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Mine are still in the fern. It is quite large and very heavy. It is in my deck 15 feet off the ground so there is no way to get it off the deck without getting stung several times. I have to water it in the dark and if it needs it be moved I have to do it at night. I have tried everything I can think of but nothing convinces them to move on. Right now the painters are trying to paint and not get stung. Help!

Bonnie
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I am allergic to bee sting. I garden all over my property (less than 1/4 acre). Never had a problem with bumble bees or honey bees. Once when I lived in Tennessee I obviously mowed over a ground bee den and they came after me. Luckily I had a faithful pointer who ran over and got between the bees and me while I ducked into the house. She was stung several times bless her heart.

I digress, my daughter was doing some trimming (machine) last week near my bird feeders and just inside my garden when she was stung by a bee. It just flew up from the ground and nailed her. She removed the stinger once we were safely in the house and she took a homeopathic for stings and ran cool water over her finger. The stinging settled down and the redness disappeared in about an hour. Today she was walking past this same area and something flew up and touched her ear – no sting. She looked down and could see a bee hole. I haven’t had the courage to go out and look yet. I have tons of bees all over the yard – I walk among the flowers with bees on them – no problem but this is obviously a mean bee. I also have a dog who is in the yard everyday. He frequently sits on this bank and surveys the yard. He reacts strongly to stings as well. Any suggestion?

Rusty
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Bonnie,

Most ground bees are only active about four to six weeks in the spring or summer. Your mean bee will soon be gone. It could also be a solitary wasp; it is almost impossible to tell what it is without catching it, but the same holds true—it won’t be active very long.

Ann
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The in ground bees turned out to be yellowjackets that nested in my very large fern on my deck. The painters as well as myself have been stung by them and my reactions were a lot of swelling. The large pot got sent done the 16 steps and landed on its side. The raccoons came by and dug out the nest and took care of them. We were able to divide the fern into 13 smaller pots and all is well. Thank you for the information.

Rusty
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Ann,

Wow, that is an interesting end to the story. I’m glad the culprits weren’t bees, and I’m happy the ferns, you, and the painters all survived!

Ann Sparks

Thanks, I’m glad the story ended well as well. I think I like the racoons better now. We have all sorts of wildlife around us and the armadillos are the hardest on the garden. The deer like the blossoms, the squirrels like the bird seed and the wasps like the hummingbird feeders as well as the hummers. The swallowtails are depositing eggs on the rue and nectaring on the phlox and lantana. All is well now.

Troy
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I live in Michigan in the country and have encountered plenty of yellowjacket and bumble bee nests when mowing the yard. Of course these were not good encounters and was swarmed and stung several times. However when I was just mowing the yard today I came across a hole in the ground and there is a bee nest in it. With my history I left as quick as possible and nothing happened. I went back and tool a closer look and they are not yellowjackets but look more like honey bees. Will honey bees make nests underground?

Rusty
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Troy,

Honey bees have been known to nest underground, but it is very rare here in North America. And it would have to be a huge hole to support a colony of honey bees and all their combs. We have approximately 4000 species of bees in North America and probably three times that many wasp species, so there are a lot of possibilities. My bet would be on some type of social wasp, but it could be a type of communal bee. The bees and wasps are notoriously hard to tell apart, especially once you get past honey bees, bumble bees, yellowjackets, and bald-faced hornets. If you can get a close-up photo, I can take a stab at identifying it.

John
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Hi Rusty,

I live in southeast Connecticut and have a small pond in my yard, and this spring when I went out to work on the waterfall I noticed a lot of bees on the edge of the pond drinking the water. They are not yellow jackets as I know what a yellow jacket looks like but are more like yellow bees but a little darker in color and seem very docile. I noticed this year I was seeing a lot of them and then about two weeks ago I happened to see a hole in my ground, probably an old chipmunk hole and I saw these bees going in and out. I would say in a minutes time probably about 20 or so were entering and leaving the hole. From what I’ve read, I thought these bees were only around in the spring but I’ve seen them all summer long and here it is mid September now and they’re still coming and going. I don’t want to kill these bees but it might become necessary if they don’t leave soon. I’ve heard that watering the area will drive them off. I’m not sure if that is fact or fiction. Any idea what I can do to make these bees move on?

Rusty
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Hi John,

This is an impossible-to-answer question. Without a photo or a positive i.d., I can only guess. Twenty passes a minute is a busy colony, and if they are all coming and going from a single hole in the ground that has been active all summer, my guess is going to be they are either a type of bumble bee or a type of wasp.

If they are relatively docile, I would be more inclined to say bumble bee. If you could get a photo of one, I could tell you more. However, if they are bumble bees you should leave them alone as this is the time of year when they mate. The hole will most probably not be used next year, and this year’s bees will all die, except for the newly-mated queens, at the first hard frost. The queens will hibernate in small holes in the ground, and come spring each one will look for a new home of its own.

Watering will probably not help (unless you really flood the area) because bees are used to downpours and deluges of various sorts. I think if you are patient for the cold weather, they will soon disappear.

John
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Hi Rusty,

I was able to get a picture of one of the bees but don’t know how to send you the picture. Is there a way to do that on here?

Rusty
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John, I will e-mail you.

Marjorie Duffy
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Now I know from having read all of your comments that we also have mining bees. We live in Essex Fells, New Jersey in a house that is new to us. At first we noticed hundreds of these tiny bees hovering over our property. Then just this a.m. we saw that their holes looked almost like ant hills with dirt surrounding each one – again, HUNDREDS of them! Is this typical of mining bees?

Rusty
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Marjorie,

Yes. Different species have different-shaped “hills” which are called tumuli (singular is tumulus). Many of the mining bees live in communities of hundreds or even thousands, but each female builds her own nest. They are generally active for 4 to 6 weeks and then they will disappear until next year. They are very gentle, uninterested in humans, and spend all their time collecting pollen. You are lucky to have these awesome pollinators taking care of your neighborhood!

Marjorie Duffy
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Thank you so much! We learned something new and very valuable today!

Stu
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Hi, I live in Bolton, England. I have what I think is mining bees flying in and out of an airbrick in my back garden. Is it usual to find mining bees entering through an air brick, or could these be mortar bees?

Many thanks

Rusty
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Stu,

All of these names are just roughly applied to broad categories of bees. Miners, diggers, masons, or mortar bees could be just about anything; the names are applied to what they are doing more than what they actually are. If you can get a good close-up photo, someone could identify them for you.

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