Updated: Mar 5, 2021
When most people think of bees, they picture honeybees living in a bee hive. But the vast majority of the world’s bee species actually lead solitary lives underground. Mining bees make up a large portion of those ground dwellers, and their arrival in our area each spring means winter is finally over.
In Decatur, early March brings with it the annual emergence of mining bees (andrena genus) from the soil. There are some 89 different species of mining bees here in Georgia. These gentle, native bees create small piles of dirt with pencil-sized holes in the center that are often mistaken for ant hills.
Unlike the ground-dwelling yellow jackets we see in the fall (which are social wasps and not bees), mining bees are extremely docile. Plus, they’re terrific pollinators, so there’s no need to try to get rid of them. They aerate your soil for free!
While solitary, many mining bees will often nest in close proximity where soil conditions are favorable. This is called an aggregate. You may see large numbers of male mining bees zooming around at high speed a few inches above the grass near the the entrances to the nest mounds. They are searching for female mates -- their only job. When many nests are clustered in an area, the sight of all those bees in motion can be intimidating. Even so, you can stand right in the middle of the action and not be bothered at all. Like all bee species, males lack stingers and cannot sting.
Females work hard as single moms, digging and provisioning the underground chambers of the nest with balls of pollen and nectar. She will do this until she dies. Inside each chamber, she'll lay a single egg. The developing larva will consume the food left for it. It will pupate by spinning a cocoon, and then waiting the rest of the year until the following spring, when it will emerge as an adult and start the cycle again.
Mining bees are active for only a few weeks each year before they disappear into the ground again until next spring. Like most solitary bees, they very seldom sting people, so take a few minutes to appreciate these busy creatures when you see them.
Tips for a mining-bee friendly yard:
• Avoid pesticides and sprays -- mosquito spraying kills bees and other insect pollinators!
• Leave patches of bare earth
• Leave fallen logs and hollow stems for nesting habitats
• Plant native, perennial plants to provide blooms across all seasons
• Provide a water source for bees to drink