A great number of bees are solitary, and a vast majority of them live underground. This is why it’s easy to upset bees when you don’t pay attention to what you’re stepping on. But is crossing paths with these bees that hazardous? Are ground bees dangerous? Or are they just victims of tall tales and misinformation?
A ground bee’s nest often looks like a small mound with a hole at the center. CC Image courtesy of Dluogs on Flickr
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What are ground bees?
A ground bee is a common name for bees that typically nest underground. Contrary to what many people may know, not all bees stay inside wooden holes and huge beehives. A great deal of them simple dig through the dirt to house their young and stay there to raise them. In fact, according to Cornell University’s Department of Etymology, a whopping 70% of all the 20,000 bee species prefer to nest surrounded by a lot of dirt.
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What do ground bees look like?
Since the term ground bees refer to all the species with a common nesting site, there isn’t really a ‘uniform’ look for these bugs. Some of them may have the usual yellow and black pattern while others may look completely different and sport wild colors like bright orange and metallic green.
Sweat bees don’t look like your usual bees because of their color. They come in different metallic hues like black, blue, red and green. In contrast, plasterer bees range from looking like standard honey bees to having all-black bodies with minimal to zero identifiable patterns.
For more info on these bees, check out Cornell University’s discussion on the most common ground bees that live in your backyard.
How do you spot ground bee nests?
To avoid ground bee nests, you have to spot them first.
Look for small dirt piles on the ground. “Balled spots” or places with no grass around them are usually indications of insect activity underneath the ground. Also, solitary bees like to guard their nest. If there happens to be one coming and going from a particular patch of land, steer clear of that area immediately.
Remember that the ground is home to many other insects, not just ground bees. Yellowjackets and bumblebees can live there as well. So overall, you have a whole world of insects living underneath that humble dirt in your yard.
Do ground bees sting?
So are ground bees dangerous? For the most part, no. Just like carpenter bees, only the female ground bees can sting. However, their sharp tiny weapon is only used for protecting their young and for self-protection. So they usually only sting when they really need to.
Ground bees are not like Africanized Honey Bees. They’re not hostile. They never swarm, and they haven’t developed the aggression to pursue invaders and sting them into submission. Some of them will even get out of the way when humans are present (unless you’re near a nest).
But of course, if you suffer from severe allergic reactions to insect bites and stings, that’s when things WILL get dangerous. It’s best to avoid these bees and their nests altogether.