Ground are native bees that nest and lay their eggs in the ground. Some people don’t believe that ground bees are real, but the truth is that …
70% of all the 20,000 species of bees nest under ground!Source: Department of Entomology (cornell.edu)
This means that most bee species are ground bees – and some are probably living in your backyard.
You can read my blog post describing what ground bees are and what common ground bees look like (with pictures) in THIS post.
Knowing if and what ground bees are dangerous, and how to protect yourself, your children, and your pets, will make it possible for humans and buzzing bees to live happily side by side, at least for the short time that these bees are active.
Here are the nine most important things you need to know about the dangers of ground bees:
Ground bees won’t “attack” you for no reason
Ground bees are not aggressive and they will not attack you for no reason. In fact, when a ground bee looks like it is “attacking” you, it is simply trying to chase you away.
Male bees fly around looking for a female to mate with in their territory. If you disturb the nests in that area or annoy a male bee, it might mock charge you to scare you away.
As a general rule, ground bees won’t bother with you if you leave them alone.
Ground bees live together or often close to each other
If you see one ground bee there’s usually more in the surrounding area.
Even though most ground bees are solitary bees, which means they live alone, they often make their nests a few inches from each other. Solitary bees have no queen bee and they make no honey.
Other ground bees, like bumble bees, are social bees. These bees build hives underground, or take over abandoned rodent or rabbit burrows in which to live. Many social bees live together with a queen in the nest, but they also don’t make honey.
Social bees tend to be a bit more aggressive than solitary bees when it comes to defending their nest.
If you’re trying to work out if a ground bee is a solitary or a social bee, watch the bee from a distance. If many bees go in and out of the nest entrance then you have social bees. If only one bee enters and leaves the nest then you probably have solitary bees.
You might confuse an ants’ nest with a ground bee’s nest
Female solitary ground bees look for dry, bare patches in the ground where the soil is loose. The female digs into the ground to build a nest for herself and create a place to lay her eggs, and she leaves a dirt pile that’s about 2 inches high above the ground during construction.
These little mounds are often confused for ants’ nests. The following video shows a garden with ground bees’ nests, to show you what the little mounds look like:
Over time, this little dirt pile gets washed away, but while it’s there it looks a lot like an ants’ nest.
If you come across little dirt mounds in your garden, be aware that it may not be ants living in there. If you do have ground bees it’s better to leave them alone as they won’t be there for long and they are important pollinators.
Only female ground bees can sting you
Male ground bees do not have a stinger so they cannot sting you. Female ground bees have a stinger and can sting you.
Bees sting as a form of self-protection and to defend their territory.
When feeling threatened, male ground bees will dart toward you and buzz loudly to scare you away from the females and nests. But this is just a mock display of aggression and they cannot hurt you.
The females spend most of their time in their nest with their eggs, so they will only sting you if you disturb their nest or aggravate them.
Some female ground bees have venomous stingers
Some female ground bees have venom in their stingers, which can burn if they sting you. And some female ground bees, such as bumblebees, don’t lose their stinger when they sting so they can sting you more than once, given the chance.
A ground bee’s venom is not poisonous and won’t cause any long-term damage, unless you are allergic to that bee species and require medical attention. Most people are allergic to honeybee venom and not the venom of native ground nesting bees.
Ground bees are not aggressive and a female ground bee will not come after you just to sting you. You are most likely to get stung if you try to catch a female ground bee with your hands or if you stick your fingers in a ground bee’s nest.
Male ground bees fight each other
Male ground bees fight with each other. They are territorial, so they don’t like other males coming into their chosen area. A male will fight another male bee to protect its territory and keep mating rights to the female bees in that territory.
Male ground bees fight in the air by bumping into each other and butting heads.
If a male survives the territorial wars (which most of them do), he dies by the end of the summer along with all the females he fought to serve.
Ground bees stick around for 4 to 6 weeks
Like most insects, ground bees become active in early spring. As the weather starts getting a little warmer, eggs under the ground hatch and bees emerge. These bees will only be around the area for four to six weeks, and then you probably won’t see any again until spring the following year.
If you have ground bees in your backyard don’t disturb the area for a month or so while the bees are busy there, and keep pets and small children away from it too. Here’s a natural, no-insecticide, and cheap method that works to get ground bees to move somewhere else.
Yellowjackets are not ground bees
Yellowjackets are wasps, not bees. These yellow and black wasps live in the ground like ground bees, but they are much more aggressive than the bees and can sting multiple times. Yellowjackets are most active in late summer and early fall, while ground bees are active in early spring.
The following video gives a great explanation on how to tell if you have ground bees or yellowjacket wasps nesting in your backyard:
If you have yellowjacket wasps in your backyard, it’s best to stay away from them or set these yellowjacket traps from Amazon (be sure to get the right formula for your area to trap the wasps).
Ground bees have more enemies than prey
Most ground bees live on a diet of flower pollen and nectar. This means that most ground bees are vegetarians or vegans.
But there are many predators that enjoy eating ground bees and that help to keep the bee population under control.
Here is a list of insects and animals that enjoy a meal of ground bees:
- Birds, such as bee-eaters, tits, shrikes, and woodpeckers
- Crab spiders
- Robber flies
- Small mammals, such as badgers, skunks, rodents, weasels, and foxes
- Wasps (click here to be surprised by all the pests that wasps like to eat)