Soil Mining Bees

3 August 2022

Bees are an insect that we are all familiar with. When you picture their home life, you see a honeycomb hive in the hole of a tree or square panels maintained by a beekeeper. There are also ground dwelling bees called miners or chimney bees.

These flyers are stout and furry, smaller than a bumble bee, but the same black and yellow colors. The head, legs, and abdomen are brown or black and the thorax is a pale yellow or orange. The wings are almost transparent but have dark veins. They are non-aggressive and actually friendly.

Like other bees, they are important pollinators and are distinctive because both males and females will forage. They are found in the Midwest and on the East coast from Florida to Canada.

These creatures are studied because they establish their nests in the ground, in well drained soils especially clay. They are also known to house between stones of old building and between logs in barns. They pick areas that receive little light. Each burrow is about the diameter of a wooden pencil.

They have been known to stay in the same location for many years. Their collective behavior is interesting to researchers and it is thought that it gives the males a greater chance of mating.

The female will tunnel into the soil and the result is a chimney-like structure, which is a single nest. They sometimes are mistaken for earthworm holes or ant hills.

The bees use a secretion that turns the loose soil into a waxy substance that will waterproof to cell for eggs. Each cell holds a single egg suspended in a pollen mixture. After five days, the larva will emerge and eat the substance and cell lining for three weeks. They stay in this stage through the winter and in April will emerge as an adult.

Only the females have stingers and the males greatly outnumber their opposite gender. Studies show that the females are actually retreat to their hole rather than confront a person. Because the joint buzzing of groups of males can be disconcerting, the uninformed humans can become fearful.

They are often blamed for bare patches in landscapes. Actually the reverse is true. They select the area because it is bare. They don’t waste time clearing an area since they have so many other tasks to perform.

Misplaced concerns can cause humans to take measures like using insecticides. A better alternative would be to make the area less desirable by planting turf or a flower patch. Or, you can simply leave them to their own solitude.

Because they gather pollen from many different sources, they are an important element of food production for the planet. They specifically target spring-blooming fruits like apples, cherries, and berries.

So, if you are an avid gardener, just like to dabble, or simply enjoy sitting amid the landscape, you should be aware of these beneficial insects and how you can help educate others.

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