Spring Is Blooming and Buzzing with Mining Bees

mining bee

Single female mining bee in her hole on the ground. StGrafix/Shutterstock

What signals spring louder than bird calls and azalea blooms? Green leaves on maple trees, blades of grass popping up in the zoysia lawn, oh and don’t forget several weeks of sneezing thanks to wind-blown pollen.

Another sign of spring? The emergence of insects, both the pests and helpers. In fact there is a study that relates plant blooms with the appearance of certain insects, a process that occurs every year at approximately the same time. Called phenology, or the study of cyclic or seasonal processes in relation to weather conditions, we’ve seen a lot of this action recently with insects, bees in particular.

Calls to beekeepers about collecting swarms of honey bees are on the rise now, as are questions about insects in other environments that aren’t as easily identified.

Incorrectly identified as yellow jackets, one of our many native bees is extremely busy this week and probably for the next 10-14 days. Searching for food (nectar and pollen) and a mate, the mining bee, also known as digger bees, ground-dwelling bees, or mud bees, can create consternation in homeowners that aren’t familiar with this bee. About the same size as a honey bee, the Andrenas are fast-moving critters that dig small holes in the ground, creating underground nest areas in which they deposit eggs. These pollinators of crops and flowers are very visible for 2-3 weeks, then disappear from view until next year.

digger bees

Mining bee area at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Courtesy S. Lee

The ‘settlement’ found and photographed at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens set up housekeeping in a semi-shaded, natural area near azalea bushes and in the past few days under sunny skies and moderate temperature, have been quite active.

Like most of our native bees, mining bees are not aggressive; I stood in among their deliriously flying bodies and nary a one stung me. As with most bee species, they’re too busy feeding themselves and their babies to mess with us. Homeowners report mowing their lawns right through the nest area, which wouldn’t happen if these were yellow jackets!

The very small holes dug in your lawn provide natural soil aeration, much like we experience with earth worms.

Insecticides will kill them however, so be sure the bees really are pests before attacking their nest areas with chemicals.

By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Contact Sallie at leesall@aces.edu.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.  Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Alabama Extension

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities and answers home-gardeners' questions each week on Birmingham Gardening Today.

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