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Let mining bees be

Right now, everyone wants to kill mining bees. Well, they don’t say “kill,” they say “get rid of.” It’s all the same.

So, what is a mining bee? Basically, it’s a type of bee that builds nests in underground tunnels. Each tunnel is usually separate from other tunnels, although they may live in large communities with hundreds, or even thousands, of tunnels. Similar to a housing development, each home is unique to the owner even though, from the outside, they all look the same.

More than that is hard to say. Of the 20,000 species of bee in the world, fully 70% live underground, and the large majority of those are small and solitary. These tunneling insects are known by various names, including digger bees, ground bees, dirt bees, mud bees, and of course mining bees.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that all bees are in serious trouble, and when bees are in trouble, we are in trouble. The pollination that bees do assures us of food crops, industrial crops, flowers, recreation areas, and some types of wood, fiber, spice, fragrance, animal feed, and so on.

Killing a bee is not in your own self-interest, nor is it in the interest of your children or your planet. In fact, it is stupid. Rather than exterminating those that provide food, clothing, and shelter, you should worship the ground they dig in.

Since there are so many species of mining bee, it is impossible to characterize them in a few words. But here are some facts that apply to most:

    • Most are harmless to humans. Nearly all the females have stingers, but the stingers are often too small to penetrate human skin. Yes, some do sting, but the stings, especially in lawn-dwelling species, are light—nothing like a wasp or honey bee.
    • They are non-aggressive. The head of each household has to do everything herself: build a home, lay eggs, collect food for winter, defend her young from other insects, and feed herself. She has little time to get everything done, and virtually no time to mess with you.
    • Most are active a very short time. After about four-to-six weeks of furious activity, they disappear for another year.
    • Like most native bees, they do not produce honey and so do not attract bears, raccoons, opossums, skunks, or teenagers.
    • Those holes in your lawn are not hurting your turf. In fact, some people kill mining bees and then go buy shoes with pegs on the bottom and stomp around the yard making aeration holes. Go figure.
    • Chances are good that you will not get stung even if you walk barefoot across the nesting area. However, if you would rather not try it, just avoid that spot for a few weeks.
    • While mining bees are pretty much harmless, any pesticide you lay over them is not. We are oddly complacent about things we can’t see, but pesticides are poisons and poisons are designed to kill living things. Many modern pesticides do not need to be consumed or inhaled to be toxic, instead they can be absorbed through the skin. To paraphrase Nancy of Shady Grove Farm (commenting on herbicides): “Would you rather have your kids running barefoot on bees or barefoot on Agent Orange?” The choice is yours.

If you are still unsure about these gentle creatures, here are some comments from readers:

So let your mining bees alone. Who else does so much while asking for so little? Certainly not us.


Andrena transnigra, the black-banded Andrena, is a mining bee easily recognized by the black band across its thorax. © Rusty Burlew.



On the same note, I repeatedly inform my neighbors and people in general that cicada-killer wasps are NOT hornets out to get you, they’re out to get cicadas. Completely benign and not interested in YOU despite how large and scary they are.

Regarding a previous post about plants and how people perceive trees as messy: I ordered 2 free trees from my energy company that was sponsoring energy-saving plantings with the National Arbor Foundation. One is a sourwood and I heard that another person ripped their tree out because it made a mess. I can’t find anything about sourwood being a “messy” tree and the woman insisted it was an awful tree. I bet she thinks it’s especially messy because it attracts bees.

I plan to add a linden tree and a bee bee tree.



It’s odd that some folks think they are superior to nature rather than a part of it. No doubt, she’s a control freak.

BTW, sourwood honey is great. I’d say it’s a perfect choice.

Glen Buschmann

Here is something we just posted about some mining bees in Olympia. I assume it is Andrenidae rather than Colletidae, but have not examined it under a scope and remain unsure of its i.d. We’ve some decent photos but i.d. is not easy especially since I hate to capture and kill at height of breeding — which of course is the only time they can be found. I’ll make one more visit this next week, look for bodies. Glen


Hi Glen,

A great bee! Wish I could have seen them. With those hairy facial foveae it has to be an Andrena of some sort. I look forward to seeing more photos.


I have a few cacti in plant pots and this morning i noticed that the gravel around them had been disturbed but thought nothing of it as I have pets which like to dig soil.
I watered the cacti with plant food and re-arranged the gravel covering the hole.
However, I returned this afternoon and saw a bee burrowing into the roots of the cacti. Could I have harmed the bee with the plant food? and is the bee harming the plant?


Hi Hannah,

The bee is not harming the plant; it is most likely digging a tunnel in which to lay a few eggs. Whether the plant food will hurt the bee, I don’t know. There are many different types of plant food which contain many substances. Some bees line their tunnels with waterproof secretions, so it is possible the bee might live on unscathed.


I have a quick question. I have ground bees in a 12′ X 12′ area behind my garage. the soil is loose without much grass coverage. The bees are very active right now, so I’m not planning on doing anything to disturb then, but I want to level out the area (it is sloped, but I wanted to add dirt to make more of a slope to my back garage for lawn mower storage, etc) and plant some bushes, wildflowers, etc.. If I add dirt over their nest and plant things, will this disturb or hurt them? Also, when would be the best time to make changes like this? Thanks!



You are right to wait until they cease being active. Then, if you limit the areas where you go deep, you should be able to do your work without damaging too many of the hibernating bees. I can’t tell you how deep the nests are because it differs by species. Some go very deep, some not so much. As far as adding soil, I think most will be able to get out in the spring, as long as the top layer is not excessively deep or rocky.

Heide Signes

Mining bees (I believe this is what they are) just appeared in our lawn. I would tend to do nothing about them. I just have one question. My daughter is extremely allergic to bee venom. Do these bees pose a threat to her? Thank you very much.



I’ve never heard of mining bees stinging anyone, but I wouldn’t let your daughter walk barefoot over them or be careless. You should watch the video of the tickle bees of Sabin Elementary School. If you look closely, you can see thousands of them hovering over the grass. The have never stung the students.

If this link doesn’t work just Google “tickle bees video.” I’m having trouble with the link.


i have 3/4 of an acre yard and the entire yard is covered in mining bees. hundreds if not thousands of holes. the yard looks like it’s moving there are so many. and no they don’t last 10 days. more like 2 months. different parts of the yard have them at alternating times. so the front for example may start up first and be very bad for about two weeks, then activity in that spot dies down, not gone, just better. then the side yard will start up , then back south side, back north side etc.

my 4 year old has been been stung several times. they are not aggressive, but in mass quantities they can and do get trapped in clothing and that is when you get stung. Also, they’ve flown into the house and nested in the plants in the house.

pest control has come several times and only gets what’s flying around so the next day, it’s just as bad. I’m sure there is a natural organic way to truly get rid of them, but those that know aren’t saying and sites like this site say leave them alone. not going to happen, I will spray my yard with Kerosene if i have too and kill everything.



Good plan. It is far better to raise your children on a carcinogenic toxic waste dump than expose them to a bee.


I have some sort of mining bees show up almost every summer..when they don’t show up I miss them..they are always busy and not aggressive but I give them plenty of space so we have a nice co-existence..I was sitting on my porch one very hot dry day and thought if I’m thirsty the bees might be I placed my garden hose on the sidewalk and let it trickle water over the concrete..before I knew it I had a traffic jam of all kinds of bees and even the neighborhood cats and squirrels got in on the act..Life is good when it’s kept simple



I love this story and I agree about the simple things.


Hello, we too have mining bees in our yard. My niece (nine) was playing outside and got stung today. The sting was not as bad as a regular bee or wasp but it did swell up and she was crying. We have had no problems up until today. I thought I had read somewhere that they don’t sting, so I wanted to caution people to be careful because the certainly do!!



All female bees can sting, except for stingless bees, and they bite. Whether they can penetrate human skin varies with the size of the bee. Most very small ones cannot, but some mining bees are quite large. Then too, children’s skin is more delicate than adult skin.


Hi, I’ve been digging out a raised bed in my garden with the intention of lining it with plastic to a) suppress the weeds in order that I can grow vegetables and b) stop the wood supports from rotting, which they have started to do. The depth of the bed is around 4 feet, and I reached ground level only to find a number of miner bees lying peacefully in their little divots in the soil. What can I do about my plans to lay the plastic? Naturally I don’t want to kill the bees. Will they find their way out from under the plastic to the side of the raised bed and out?
Thank you



The bees will not make it out from under the plastic. I think you should try to move the ones you find to another location. Just carefully bury them in a similar type of soil. All won’t make it, I suspect, but maybe some will.


Thanks for your reply Rusty, I’ll certainly do my best to save them. They do seem rather sweet, at least while they’re all snoozing!


Hi Rusty,

We have had a large leaf Philodendron for 25 years in a large (18″ high) pot that we bring in to the (heated) garage for the winter. It sorta withers with benign neglect but comes back beautifully outside every year. The pot has a 1X3″ drainage hole about 6 inches up from the ground. And that’s where the bees have entered and made their home this summer. They are extremely active every time I look at the hole – constantly coming and going. We bring in the pot before the first sub 40 temperature in October which doesn’t give us a whole bunch of time. I DO NOT want to kill the bees (we put up with getting eaten by mosquitoes every year because I refuse to spray), but they can’t stay where they are and we are unwilling to leave the plant out to die. A solution would be most welcome. Help ?????



Why can’t they stay where they are? Most bees (except honey bees) hibernate in the soil for about 9 to 10 months of the year. If the bees are still active, they won’t be for long. The heated garage won’t make them emerge once they’ve gone into hibernation. Then in the spring, sometime after the plant returns to it’s outside place, the bees will emerge for their short adult life.


If they are gonna sleep thru til May, I’m more than happy to just leave them be(e). I was unaware that they would become inactive, due both to my lack of knowledge of bees and the fact that at the moment they are hyperactive. I will anticipate their getting sleepy before I have to move the plant in. Thank you for your time and expertise – I feel better 🙂

PS: I haven’t managed to get close enough to take a good picture for ID purposes, so I have no idea what kind of bees they are except relatively small and fast. Would honey bees be likely to pick the bottom of a potted plant to set up shop ?? Because of the heavily exposed root system at the top of this plant I would not be able to find burrows or holes but all of my observations thus far have them going in and out that one drainage hole.



I’m so glad these bees ended up with you!

No, honey bees nearly always live above ground in colonies that range from about 20,000 to 70,OOO members. You most likely have some type of solitary ground bee that lives in small borrows. Most of these bees are pretty gentle, so if you manage to get a photo, let me try to i.d. it for you.


We have had mining bees visit every August for a few weeks. There appears to be different types in the nest. The larger bumble type with pollen sacs on the legs flies into the area it appears that it is being attacked by a group of the smaller lighter coloured bees that are constantly hovering over the nesting area. The larger bee then enters her hole while the smaller ones hover over the area. The first year the nesting area was small but it seems to be getting larger each year. They are non aggressive and we enjoy watching them.



The smaller ones could possibly be males waiting at the nest entrances for females. Females carry pollen, males don’t, and the males are often smaller than the females.


It appears that most of the bees have left but I did see a few of the larger ones and about a half a dozen of the smaller. Do they move off and return next year, or is it offspring from eggs in the ground that we will see next August? The latter seems less likely as they would be growing for a year underground.



It is the offspring of these bees that you will see next year. For most ground-dwelling native bees, the adults are only active about two months of the year. They spend the other 10 months of the year underground, first as an egg, then a larva, and then a pupa. It seems unlikely but it’s true.


Hi again Rusty,

I now have a couple of pics of the critters inhabiting my large pot – how do I get them to you? The only email I have is the donotreply one. Just for grins, I took a couple of shots of very different bees which are feasting on my sedum plants in the back yard in large numbers and with great gusto – I’d like to know what they are as well. We are plant lovers and have always had a variety of bees in our yard (including BIG fascinating bumble bees) but never developed any curiosity until the unidentified miners invaded the Philodendron pot. Thanks again for your help.



Look for an e-mail.


We’ve got hundreds of mining bees on the lawns right now – mid September (2015). I’m glad to share my space with them and tell passers-by about them. I read that they are usually about in May, so I wonder what they are doing now – trying for a second brood?



The answer depends on the species. Although most species are active early in the spring and summer, a few species are active later and take advantage of the fall-blooming plants. And you are right, there are a number of species that raise a second round of brood late in the season. You would need a species identification, to know exactly what you have. I’m so happy to hear that you can co-exist happily!


Hi there
We have miner bees in our school garden (it’s just being set up). We have already disturbed the bees quite a bit and we’re trying not to be too disruptive going forward. They have been busy since March and are still active now.

The soil is very dusty and we’d like to spread a thin layer of mulch to stop all the dust rising as the kids are starting to spend time in the garden for lessons. Is this likely to harm the bees/nests? Everything we’ve done thus far doesn’t seem to have fazed them too much… they’ve moved around us/we’ve moved around them.

We’d like to leave them do their own thing and are happy to co-habit… just not sure what the mulch will do to them… thanks in advance.



If the layer of mulch is thin it will most likely be fine. A thick layer though is harmful. A think layer can prevent them from digging new holes because they have trouble moving the mulch pieces.


I have mining bees in my front yard hundreds of them every year. I was wondering if when I cut my grass (riding mower) 1. Does it hurt them? 2. The holes that get covered can they re-open them? Thanks in advance



They can re-open the holes. The only bees that get hurt would be the ones you macerated with the lawn mower.


I have just disturbed a nest I. I’m sitting in the living room as I’m scared to go out. I noticed the bee going underground and never thought much about it, saw it about 7 times. This morning I went out to plant some plants and while out there the bee returned. It seemed frantic and I realised I’ve moved soil along. I immediately tried to push the soil back I just felt terrible it was flying around me and I had to keep running back inside in case I get stung. But I’ve come inside now as there are 3 outside and I think I’ve disturbed a hive. I don’t know what to do now!! And I feel awful! my neighbors probably think I’m mentally ill as I was trying to stay calm and talking to it saying I’m trying to help u calm down!! ??



Ground-nesting solitary bees are common this year. They often nest near each other, so you may see several at a time. If you leave the soil alone, most likely they will find and open the nest again, or they will start a new one. These bees hardly ever sting, so I wouldn’t be afraid of them. They are concentrating on what they are doing and not at all interested in you.


Actually I was stung twice by miner bees recently when I dug up their nest accidentally. Their sing is quite painful sort of like a little bubble bee. Still we made peace I work around them and they don’t bother me but like anything else of earth they will defend their nest. Luckily they tend to be a solitary bee or live in small colonies like the ones in my yard.


I have what appear to be miner bees in my excavator. Between the tracks on both sides is a long hollow steal channel that has dirt that has been worked in there. I moved the excavator the other day and I had large bees acting aggressive and diving at me in the cab. I got out and could see dozens of these bees coming out of the opening on both sides of the excavator. I usually see these bees more individually and not in a swarm. Don’t really want to kill them but they are too distracting to leave there. Not in a spot to get to relocate. I can make sure I clean that channel out in the future. Any tips or ideas here? Thanks



That is fascinating. They sound more like cavity dwellers than mining bees. What many of these bees like is a long narrow tube like you describe. They lay their eggs in there and cover them with mud, so even if you cleaned out the channel, they will bring their own mud. I have a long narrow slit in my patio door frame, just on the outside, that has been completely filled in with mud. I don’t know that there is much you can do other than turn your excavator into a bee condo. If you are into bees, you can put up one of those nesting tubes and hope they use that instead.


Hi Rusty,

I believe I have these mining bees in a pot on our deck. We hadn’t planted anything in them all summer which is why the bees were attracted to them. I wanted to plant some mums in them now. Is this still possible? Or would I be digging up their nests in the process?




The bees lay their eggs underground and then the eggs hatch into larvae or pupae. They hibernate like that for about 10 months before they re-emerge. So yes, you would be digging up their nests.


I replaced the twenty steps that go down a step bank to the street in front of my house. I accidentally dug into a miner bee nest at step 7 and actually got stung twice. The stings where quite painful lot of like a little bumble bees, but I was determined not to harm them. So I abandoned that step and went to the street and started working my way up. A couple weeks later I was back at the miner bees. They seemed to knock off about 3 pm so I’d work until dark very carefully, I finally got around them and we achieved détente. My neighbors think I’m crazy but I’m proud of the outcome.



I’m proud of you too. Well done!