Mining Bee Info: Are Mining Bees Good To Have Around

Mining Bee Info: Are Mining Bees Good To Have Around

Honeybees have received quite a bit of media in the last few decades as many challenges have noticeably decreased their populations. For centuries, the honeybee’s relationship with mankind has been incredibly hard on the bees. Originally native to Europe, honeybee hives were brought to North America by early settlers. At first honeybees struggled to adapt to the new environment and native plant life of the New World, but in time and through domestication efforts by man, they adapted and naturalized.

However, as honeybee populations increased in North America and they became recognized as an important agricultural tool, they were forced to compete for resources with 4,000 native bee species, such as mining bees. As human populations increased and advanced, all bee species began to struggle for habitat and food sources, not just in North America but worldwide. Keep reading for some additional mining bee info and learn more about these important ground dwelling bees.

What are Mining Bees?

While much light has been shed on the plight of honeybees because they are highly valued as the pollinators of 70% of North American food crops, very little is said about the struggle of our native pollinating bees. Before being replaced by the honeybee, native mining bees were the primary pollinators of blueberries, apples and other early blooming food crops. While honeybees have been domesticated and valued by humans, mining bees have faced the struggle for food and nesting ground on their own.

Mining bees are a group of about 450 native bee species of North America in the Adrenid genus. They are extremely docile, solitary bees which are only active in the spring. As their name indicates, mining bees dig tunnels in which they lay their eggs and raise their young. They seek out areas with exposed soil, excellent drainage and light shade or dappled sunlight from taller plants.

Though mining bees may form tunnels rather close to each other, they are not colony forming bees and live solitary lives. From the outside, the tunnels look like ¼ inch holes with a ring of loose soil around them, and are easily mistaken for small ant hills or earthworm mounds. Mining bees are sometimes blamed for bare patches in lawns because several mining bee tunnels may be spotted in a small bare patch. In truth, however, these mining bees selected the site because it was already sparse, as they have little time to waste clearing bare ground.

How are Mining Bees Good?

These insects are considered important pollinators too. In early spring, the female mining bee digs a vertical tunnel only a few inches deep. Off of the main tunnel, she digs out several little chambers and waterproofs each tunnel with a secretion from a specialized gland in her abdomen. The female mining bee then begins to collect pollen and nectar from early spring blooms, which she forms into a ball in each chamber to feed her anticipated offspring. This involves hundreds of trips between bloom and nest, and pollinates hundreds of flowers as she diligently collects pollen from each bloom.

When she feels satisfied with the provisions in the chambers, the female mining bee peeks her head out of the tunnel to choose from the congregating male mining bees. After mating, she deposits one egg on each pollen ball in each chamber of the tunnel and seals the chambers. After hatching, mining bee larvae survive and pupate all summer enclosed in the chamber. By autumn, they mature into adult bees, but remain in their chambers until spring, when they dig out and repeat the cycle.

Identifying Ground Dwelling Bees

Mining bees can be difficult to identify. Of the over 450 species of mining bees in North America, some may be brightly colored, while others are dark and drab; some may be extremely fuzzy, while others have sparse hairs. What they all have in common, however, are their nesting and mating habits.

All mining bees form nesting tunnels in the ground in early spring, usually from March to May. At this point, they can be considered a nuisance, as their activity and buzzing can be a trigger agiphobia, or the fear of bees, in some people. In truth, bees buzz to create a vibration which causes blooms to release pollen. Male mining bees also buzz loudly around the tunnels to attract a female.

After emerging from their nests in spring, an adult mining bee only lives another month or two. In this short time, the female has much to do to prepare her nest and lay eggs. Just as she has very little time to clear ground or destroy your lawn, she also wastes very little time on interacting with humans. Mining bee females are rarely aggressive and only sting in self-defense. Most male mining bees don’t even have stingers.

While, the activity of mining bees in early spring can unnerve some people, they should simply be left alone to carry out their busy spring to-do list. The springtime tasks of mining bees not only ensures their survival but also pollinates important food plants for humans, animals and other insects.

Save our Bees: how to ID and help Bees in the Garden

Identify which types of bees live in your garden and provide them with the right space, shelter, and food. Includes information on bees of the Isle of Man and worldwide.

If I asked you to list all the types of bees that you know, how many could you name? Chances are that you’d say honey bees and bumblebees. Two is a good start but incredibly we have 75 different species of bees on the Isle of Man[1]. Do you think that’s a lot? The United Kingdom has 272, the United States has around 4000, and worldwide there are almost 20,000 species[2].

The ‘Save the Bees’ movement is extremely important since all bees are threatened by human activities. However, it tends to focus mainly on honey bees, Apis melifera. We’re asked to support beekeepers, buy honey, plant nectar-rich flowers, and stop using neonicotinoid pesticides. As a beekeeper, I think it’s a great step forward but I also think that it’s doing our other bee species an injustice. These thousands of species of wild bees are just as important in the eco-system as their rock star cousins. Fortunately, there are ways that we can help them too.

Honey bees

Before we move on to all those other types of bees let’s talk honey bees. They’re often confused with bumblebees, hoverflies, and even wasps. Knowing what they look like can help you to help them in the garden, even if you’re not a beekeeper.

  • About 15mm (half an inch) long
  • Segmented bodies with fine hair covering their body
  • Often spotted with yellow ‘pollen baskets’ on their legs
  • Short tongue, so long flowers can be difficult for them to feed on
  • Coloration tends to be warm to dark brown with honey to yellow colored striations
  • British black bees can appear almost black

Honey bees live in colonies that are up to 80,000 insects strong in the summer and reduce to 10,000 in the winter. They include a single queen bee, who lives in the colony, a few hundred drones, which are male bees, and the rest are female worker bees. They can be fiercely protective of their home and produce a large amount of honey.

Though most honey bees today live in man-made hives, the colony will often split into swarms in early summer. These swarms will fly away to set up a second colony and they seem very attracted to chimneys, roofs, attics, and sheds. They’re especially attracted to the scent of other bees so if you’d like your own colony, set up a used hive in the garden. Before long it may be filled with honey bees.

Honey bees in one of my colonies. These are from Primrose and have more yellow banding than the bees that live in neighboring Bluebell


Thanks to honey labels and cartoons, many people think that fuzzy bumblebees are honey bees. They’re actually very different in both appearance and behavior.

  • Big and fuzzy
  • 19-38 mm (0.75-1.5 inches) long
  • Loud buzzing
  • Tongues of varying length depending on species. Short to long.
  • Varying colors of black, yellow, white, and even blue

Worldwide there are about 250 species of bumblebees[3]. They too are social, though their colonies are smaller than honey bees at only about 50-400 individuals[4].

They have a queen that in temperate climates will live for a year and hibernates during her first winter — the rest of the colony, including the old queen, die in early autumn. It’s a sad sight to see them sitting lifeless on late-blooming flowers but it’s part of their natural rhythm. In more tropical places bumblebees can live more than a year.

After coming out of hibernation, a queen bumblebee will look for a desirable place to build her colony. It could be a vacated rodents nest, under a shed, an overgrown hedge, or even untidy places in the garden. Once she finds a place she’ll settle in to lay her eggs and raise young. They’re mainly workers until later in the season when the queen lays eggs for drones and baby queen bees. These new queens are the ones that will hibernate and found a new colony the next spring.

Bumblebees have varying lengths of tongue depending on species. A longer tongue can reach down into deeper flowers, shorter tongues are better for open flowers like this cornflower.

Bumblebees on the Isle of Man

Kate Hawkins, formerly of Manx National Heritage, is keenly interested in our fifteen species of bumblebees. They have delightful names such as the bilberry bumblebee, moss carder bee, and bohemian cuckoo bee. Some are very easy to spot and trying to ID the ones in your garden can help you to better serve them. She also has a top tip for tempting them into living in insect hotels. It’s recently been discovered that bumblebees are attracted to the scent of old rodent burrows. If you find a mouse nest in your shed or attic, keep it and use the material in making an insect hotel. Bees will move in pronto.

Common Carder Bee. As you can guess from this photo, they have relatively long tongues — image courtesy of Flickr

Solitary Bees

Bumblebees and honey bees represent just a fraction of the world’s bees. Amazingly, 98% are solitary bees that most people wouldn’t notice or confuse with more well-known bees. Harmless to people and pets, solitary bees are prolific pollinators and can be far better at that task than honey bees. Some say up to 100 times better.

Unlike their more social relatives, solitary bees don’t live in colonies. That’s probably why they aren’t aggressive since they’re not defending a hive. Instead, up to 70% of them nest in the ground and the others find homes in nooks in crannies of trees, walls, buildings, and burrows and nests of other animals and insects. Solitary bees describe a bee’s behavior rather than how it looks. There are many types of solitary bee including:

  • Leafcutter bees
  • Mason bees
  • Mining bees
  • Carpenter bees

A helpful poster of North American bees. You can also get a great book showing photos of many more species.

Identifying bees in your backyard

With thousands of species of bees out there, how can you find out which ones live in your garden? The best way is to spend time in the garden and watch the bees. Take photos and notes of where you spotted them, which flowers they were on, behavior, and their physical characteristics.

Use these notes and photos to compare against a guide such as A Guide to North America’s Bees. If you’d like to use online sources to try to ID bees in your backyard, there are quite a few photos of various bumblebees and solitary bees in Native Bees of North America.

Here in Britain, there’s a wonderful book called Field Guide to Bees of Great Britain and Ireland that many will find useful. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust also has detailed information on identifying British bumblebees. You can also find photos of British solitary bees, on the Friends of the Earth website.

Australia has over 1 500 bee species too — many unique to the region. Interestingly, they have no native bumblebees and only primitive types of native social bees. The honey they produce tastes tangier than the honey produced by the European honey bee. It’s also more difficult to harvest without harming the bees so isn’t commonly available. Here’s more information on bees in Australia and New Zealand.

Wildflower meadows are a magnet for bees and wildlife

Bees on the Isle of Man

The bees here on the Isle of Man include some very interesting individuals, as I found out from Richard Selman at DEFA. We have cuckoo bees, whose queens sneakily lay eggs in other bees’ nests. Then the fluffy ginger carder bee that lives in colonies of up to 200 individuals – you’ll notice it as one of the first bees flying around in spring.

We have five types of plasterer bees on the Island too. These solitary bees waterproof their underground nests with a cellophane-like material that they make themselves. There are immigrants in the bee world too. The tree bumblebee was first identified on the Island in 2005 and was most likely blown over the sea from England.

Let weeds bloom. They’re an important food source for bees of all types — image courtesy of Flickr

Bees need food for nine months of the year

Our bees are active and looking for food from March until November. Andree Dubbeldam, conservation officer at the Manx Wildlife Trust, says that 80% of the nectar they collect in early autumn comes from ivy. In spring, some of the most important sources of food are willow catkins, bluebells, wild garlic, and dandelions. So instead of planting flowers for bees, it might be better to allow more ‘weeds’ to grow and flower. The same goes for other regions. Allow weeds to have their place and more wildlife will have food.

Pyracantha flowers are a rich source of pollen and nectar when very few other food-flowers are blooming – image courtesy of Flickr

Grow plants and shrubs that flower in the ‘June Gap’

If you do want to grow flowers specifically for bees, focus on types that flower during the June gap. There’s a lot of wild forage in spring and late summer but June can surprisingly be a difficult time for bees. There are many garden flowers that they’ll thank you for but trees and shrubs have so much more to offer wildlife. It’s said that one blossoming tree has more nectar than an entire field of flowers.

While you might not have space for trees, a shrub is a different matter. Two, in particular, cotoneaster and pyracantha, are ideal for feeding bees during the June gap. They’ll be buzzing as loudly as the fuschia hedges do later in summer. Not only do these shrubs provide nectar for bees but they’ll be loaded with nutritious autumn berries. Just this November I watched as blackbirds stripped my cotoneaster within a few days. Three or four at a time systematically plucked red berries with bright yellow beaks as I enjoyed my morning cuppas.

Large homemade insect hotels are more attractive to bees than the type you can buy — image courtesy of Flickr

Providing bees with shelter

The next most important thing after food is shelter. You don’t need to take up beekeeping to give bees a place to live. You’ll be amazed to find them living all over your garden, in tall grass, under hedges, in holes of trees, piles of garden waste, stacks of logs, and even under the ground. Keep that in mind if you ever see mini volcanos in your lawn and wonder what they are.

You’ll be happy to hear that being a somewhat lazy gardener can help. Even if you like things neat, leave an unseen corner a little messy with garden waste and wood. Hold off on tidying too. Getting a head start on your spring cleaning might leave bees and other wildlife homeless when they need shelter the most.

A stunning bee hotel that I spotted at the Jardin des Plantes

Help bees with insect hotels

In early spring, build insect hotels for bees to both nest and hibernate in. They let you play host to many other insects and invertebrates too. You can purchase small types ready-made but bigger ones are more attractive to wildlife. Begin by stacking 5-8 heat-treated wood pallets together.

Always look for the stamp on the side of the pallet and look to see if you can see HT, meaning heat treated. If you see MB instead, avoid it at all costs as it stands for Methyl bromide, an insecticide. Fill the empty spaces with bamboo canes, wood, straw, bricks, twigs, terracotta pots, and other natural materials. A shady situation is best.

Give Bees a Drink

All animals need water, including bees. In the wild, they’ll perch on stones or vegetation close to the water’s edge and drink. Water sources in the garden can be a little more tricky for them. Though they’ll be drawn to water in buckets, there’s no place for them to land. If they attempt to drink from vessels like this, they can drown.

Instead, fill shallow dishes with pebbles and water and set them in the garden. Bees and other insects will appreciate the safe drink.

Save our bees

Saving the bees isn’t just about honey bees. Get to know the other buzzers in your garden by identifying who they are and what their needs are. Plan to have flowers blooming not just in summer but from early spring on to early autumn. Create space for them to live, a source of water, and try not to use chemicals in the soil or on your plants. After all, they’re not just good for pollinating our veg, but they’re an important player in the eco-system. For even more have a watch of the video below.

Gardeners can do a lot of good for wildlife in the garden and if you’re in Britain or Europe, read how you can help save hedgehogs.

[1] Manx Bee List — RGSelman Nov 2018, adapted and updated from list of Steve Crellin
[2] Wikipedia Honey bee
[3] Wikipedia Bumblebee
[4] The Bumblebee Conservation: The differences between bumblebees and honeybees

How to Identify Ground Bees or Mining Bees?

Ground bees or mining bees as the name suggests are bees that live on the ground and become active sometime during the spring season. These bees nest in the ground, under the soil, often in the bare patches of your backyard, lawn or garden. Mining bees are solitary creatures they have no concept of class or colonies. The female bee usually lives alone and raises the younglings herself. Also, they hibernate during the colder months and emerge out only when the weather turns warm. Ground bees are pretty easy to identify. Ever noticed mounds or mud burrows clustering around your backyard or garden space? Chances are that there are mining bees working underneath.

The underground bees with their burrows in the ground are beneficial for the ecosystem. For starters, they aid in pollination, and secondly, they enhance the fertility of the soil. However, for all their perks, mining bees can be a problem for property owners as they have a habit of digging deep tunnel-like nests that loosens the soil. Also, their stings hurt real badly. We will talk about some simple and effective ground bee removal methods to help you get rid of these pesky creatures later in the article.

Are Ground Bees Dangerous?

Ground bees are generally very docile creatures that don’t turn aggressive unless unnecessarily provoked or threatened. A great many bees are solitary and prefer to live underground rather than hover above. The ones living underground don’t prefer to stay in colonies. This is why it is easy to upset bees when you’re not paying attention to what you’re stepping on. However, one cannot call them dangerous. It is pretty easy to spot their nesting grounds and avoid them. Usually small “balled spots” or places with no grass around indicate an insect activity underneath. In ground bees, the males are generally more volatile though they have no stingers females can sting but are not rattled that easy.

Do Ground Bees Sting?

Ground bees aren’t dangerous most of the time. Bees, especially the solitary ones fear human company and tend to stay away from them. Moreover, it is just the females who have stingers attached to their bodies and ground bees sting only when provoked or probed. They mostly use their tiny sharp weapons only for protecting the young ones. Ground bees are nothing like wasps or Africanised honey bees, i.e. they’re never hostile or harmful. These bees don’t swarm in large numbers over your head and go out of their way to sting the invaders into submission. All said and done, being stung by a bee (ground bees or otherwise) can cause pretty serious allergic reactions and rashes. It is best that you avoid these bees and their nests altogether.

Types of Ground Bees

A ground bee is an umbrella term used to identify every bee that builds its nest underground. They aren’t confined to just a particular colour or shape, their appearance varies from place to place. The most common ground bees sport yellow and black patterns on their bodies, while others may look completely different appearing in a variety of vibrant colors ranging from metallic green to orange. Listed below are some common ground bees belonging to the classifications, Anthophoridae, Andrenidae and Halictidae

Sweat bees are solitary and prefer to live in underground galleries relying on plants to feed their young ones rather than flying out and foraging for food. These creatures look more like wasps than bees and come in a variety of shades and sizes.

Plasterer bees

The colletidae collectively known as plasterer bees are among the most primitive extant of species on the planet. Their nests are lined by a cellophane-like lining, i.e. a secretion they use to smoothen out the walls of their burrows.

Mining Bees

Miner bees or ground bees don’t belong to one single family. They’re a group of insects coming from at least three different classifications, the Andrenidae, the Anthophoridae, and the Halictidae. They are solitary insects who dig tunnels in the soil for nesting.

Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees look a lot like bumblebees, only they are furrier, smaller and lot less aggressive. The bees with their fur-covered black bodies, long black legs, and yellow throats are quite harmless and stay in deep burrows underground.

Bumblebees are yellow furry insects underground and come out to forage for nectar and pollens. They belong to the Apidae family and are among the only ground bees that live in colonies. Bumblebees nest only during the summer seasons and hence do not store honey.

What do ground bees eat?

Most bees feed on pollen and nectar collected from flowers that are used for nurturing their young ones. Ground bees are no different they mainly feed on pollen grains collected from flowering plants contributing to the process of pollination. Other ground bees like carpenter bees feed on wood and plants. There are also some species of sweat bees that actually eat human sweat! Now, that’s gross. Ground bees are mainly solitary and don’t work in large colonies, hence they don’t really have any means of storing food for a long period of time like honey bees. The only time they do store food inside the cells is for the larvae that’s metamorphosing.

Ground Wasp Stings

Yellow jackets and digger wasps are common ground wasps. Yellow jackets usually construct their nests underground, but occasionally, they build above ground places in sheltered, dark locations such as crawl spaces, wall voids, fallen trees and thick bushy vegetation are more appealing. Ground wasps are both solitary and social pests. Generally, wasps are not aggressive unless they believe their nest is compromised by perceived threat, and the aggressive repeated stings commence.

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