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:
- From Dave: “We’ve had mining bees for years. They aerate the soil and do their pollinating. We’ve walked on them, run lawn mowers over them, and never have been stung. I still feel guilty about my first silly and futile attempts to eradicate them.”
- From Stacy: “My mining bees appear for about ten days in the spring, and then they’re gone. They do no harm and they’re a lovely harbinger of spring. My son and the neighbor boys have played around them every year—and no one has ever been stung or harmed in any way.”
- From Suzann: “We have THOUSANDS of mining bees . . . but what an experience! In the weeks they are active it sometimes looks like our lawn is moving because so many of them are hovering. My children have learned to accept them, and explain them to their friends. The bees will hover on their hands, my children run the yard with flip flops on, no one has ever been stung.”
So let your mining bees alone. Who else does so much while asking for so little? Certainly not us.