bee stories

When pests become pets with portraits


Every now and again something happens here at Honey Bee Suite that makes all the time and effort worthwhile. I now have a new hero in the UK and, with his permission, I’m sharing his story of how he came to have pet bees.

It started with an email

Think I’ve just made a big mistake. I’ve just paid for someone to come out and get rid of (kill) the mining bees we have nesting in our front lawn. We have two small children and did not do our homework on [the bees]. And I now feel terrible about what I have just committed to have done to them. I paid by credit card over the phone just tonight, and guys are coming out Friday morning…OMG what should I do? I can’t live with the thought of killing thousands of living, harmless little creatures.

Immediately I wrote back: “Call them back and cancel!” Never for a moment did I think he would actually cancel, and with advice like that, I didn’t expect to hear from him again. But a few days later, more e-mail:

Did not get rid of them, you may be glad to hear. I will try and get a photo to send to you. But we have rain. Hopefully that has not affected them too much.

This made me smile. Last week he paid an exterminator. This week, he’s worried the bees are getting wet. Sounds like major progress to me. I’m patting myself on the back. The next message contained a photo he found on the web:

This is definitely what we have or had in our garden. Very small, very dark. This is s Google image.

I wrote back and told him it looked like an Andrena. Then, finally, I received this:

Hi, just got some real good photos of our pet bees 🙂  Hope these pics would clarify exactly what kind of mining bees our garden is home to. Many thanks.

Pet bees? I’m bowled over. And not only are they now pets, but they are pets with portraits. Un-bee-lievable.

We save the things we value

I wanted to share this story because I have noticed time and again that it is easy to kill something that is nameless and faceless. But once a person learns the name of a creature and learns to identify it by sight, it takes on a personality and a value. This is why I encourage photographs, and this is why I spend so much time trying to help people with bee identifications.

I am grateful to Edward Traill, not only for saving the bees but for allowing me to use his story. To me, Edward is the bee guardian of the year. He deserves it.

Honey Bee Suite

This adorable mining bee doesn't know how lucky it is. © Edward Traill.
This adorable mining bee doesn’t know how lucky it is. © Edward Traill.
The hairy face and relatively hairless legs make me think this is a male. The hairy facial foveae make me think it's an Andrena, although I can't see the wing veins well enough to verify. © Edward Traill.
The hairy face and relatively hairless legs make me think this is a male. The hairy facial foveae make me think it’s an Andrena, although I can’t see the wing veins well enough to verify. © Edward Traill.


  • Sweet story. 🙂

    Last year was the first year I’d ordered a queen by mail. I let my UPS driver know when she was coming and he was a bit worried. When she arrived, he was nervous about even holding the package and yelled when I started opening the box, “Don’t let it out!” I assured him she was safely tucked away in a little cage but I needed to make sure she was alive. All was well.

    This spring when I ordered a queen, he not only was eager to see the cage, he wanted to take pictures. It’s nice to see people learning to appreciate these hard little workers.

  • I am new to beekeeping as a hobbyist and I have been reading your writings (blog) for a couple of months now. It is the only blog of any kind that I follow. The above story is so uplifting. Thank you for this one and all the other wonderful articles you share with us.

  • Damn, I was hoping to be bee guardian of the year. Went to do a pre-emptive strike for a (landscaping) client here in the Bay area who was throwing a big party & had threatened to go and buy some plants at a big box store where the employees wear orange.

    Loads of cheap, colorful plants available, but each came with the caveat “treated with neonicotinoids, which are approved by the EPA”… or words to that effect.

    I put my plants back on their shelves & went to shop at a responsible wholesale nursery – but that didn’t stop the truckloads of poisoned plants that others were buying to plant wherever they chose, and where I am powerless to prevent my bees from visiting.

    Having just doused said bees with formic acid (which nearly took my head off), the combined experiences made for a chastening couple of weeks for a well-meaning novice non bee guardian of the year!

  • “… easy to kill something that is nameless and faceless…”

    How very true, and not just insects.

    But there’s another extreme to avoid, and that is when someone posts and others identify this stinkbug that has added an extra layer of worry to organic gardening. Followed by advice about shooing it onto a piece of paper and shaking it outside off the porch because we “hate to kill anything.”

    If you don’t want to kill an invasive, destructive alien insect that is capable of ruining an entire crop of tomatoes, better not complain about the price of organic food. Please! Shoo it onto a piece of paper and squush it!

    Northern Kentucky

    • Nancy,

      As you and I know, squushing and poisoning are two different things . . . and I, too, believe in squushing when necessary.

  • What a lovely story! Good on you Edward!

    Is there a wasp guardian of the year category? We have a colony living in the soffits of our porch, right above where I stand to hang the laundry. Not once have there been any real problems. Now that autumn is here the northwest wind has had them agitated but we’ve had a little chat and still no trouble. Yesterday I had a cloud of them circling my head and I kept having to brush them off the towels.

    • Christine,

      So cool! My husband is also in contention for wasp guardian of the year. A bunch of potter wasps made mud nests in our barn and he decided to leave them there on the grounds they weren’t hurting anything. This is a major change in philosophy from his former self.

  • Honey bees are the “poster children” for pollinator conservation but ultimately less important than native pollinators. Talking about my bees while giving away honey opens the door to the more important conversation. My pollinator-friendly yard lets me show people that most bees don’t sting most of the time – especially when they see my grandson, aged seven, petting the bumblebees.

  • Where’s the “like” button, haha. I’ll be grinning all day over this heartwarming story. Every time I give a presentation on bees / pollinators I hope I have made a few converts, but I rarely get to hear the follow up behavior changes. You are more than a pebble in the lake, you are a boulder making big waves. Yay!

    • Thanks, JoAnne. You are right that it is very rewarding to make a difference. I look at that little bee in the photo and say, “Yes!”

  • Awesome post, another one to pin to my file of favorite Rusty isms! Back in my days of manufacturing and quality control there were two phrases that I used trying to convey critical concepts which lead to a better understanding of a product or process. The first a quote, “The path to wisdom starts by calling things by their right names, it also starts and ends with the words, “I don’t know.”” (Author unknown) The second a concept from the Toyota System Genchi Genbutsu…..Go see, confirm and be aware with your own eyes….. Or as my daddy would have said it (add southern drawl) “All right boys, get your boots on, it’s time to go out there and go to work.”

    Currently I am trying to summarize these concepts in a pictorial work of honey bees/pollinators/wildflowers/ soil with the title “Stop, Consider, Show Respect” and yes I did include soil for it is the medium that we all depend on…..Rusty your work, that I follow closely, embodies these concepts. Armed and emboldened with knowledge from your writings and a select few others I try to observe each day and document as best I can. Thank you for all you do…. When we know better we tend to do better…..

  • My neighbour phoned to have some wasps killed and the company refused. They said they were mason bees and it is illegal to kill bees in Scotland. I had a big problem last year with wasps. I eventually gave them an old Smith hive; they spent the rest of the season there.

  • Just wanted to let you know how helpful your site is, we have mining bees, their area is getting bigger every year, I put out a little sign showing people the bees won’t harm them and what kind of bee they are, we have people who just stand and watch because there are so many, the little sign has been very helpful.

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