Some people don’t believe that ground bees are real, but 70% of all bees are ground bees that nest and lay eggs in the ground. This means you probably have some living in your backyard. Should you worry about them and are they aggressive?
Ground bees are not aggressive unless provoked – females only sting if they feel their life is threatened and to protect their nest. Males have no stinger and cannot sting. If you stay away from ground bees, they stay away from you.
Below are the nine most important things you need to know about the dangers of ground bees and their rumored “aggression”.
Ground bees need a reason to attack
Ground bees are not aggressive and only try to sting when there’s a reason for it. In fact, when a ground bee looks like it’s “attacking” you, it’s 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 close to each other
If you see one ground bee there’s usually more nearby.
Even though most ground bees are solitary bees, which means they live alone, they often make their nests a few inches apart. Solitary bees have no queen bee and make no honey.
Other ground bees, like bumble bees, are social bees. They 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 make no honey.
Social bees tend to be more aggressive than solitary bees when it comes to defending their nest, but again, they’re only aggressive when they have to be.
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 each 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, where she can lay her eggs. She leaves a dirt pile that’s about 2 inches above the ground during construction.
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 might not be ants living there. If you 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
A bee will only sting if it feels its life is threatened, its nest and eggs are under attack, or to defend its territory.
Male ground bees don’t have a stinger so they can’t sting you.
When feeling threatened, male ground bees dart toward you and buzz loudly to scare you away from the females and the nests. But this is just a display of aggression and they can’t do much to hurt you.
Female ground bees have a stinger and can sting you.
The females spend most of their time in their nest with their eggs, so they only sting if you disturb their nest or aggravate them. As an example, a female solitary bee might get aggravated if you mow the lawn or dig up the soil where she has laid her eggs.
Queen bees in social nests are very calm and timid, and they probably won’t sting at all.
Some female ground bees have venomous stingers
Some ground bees have venom in their stingers, which burns if they sting you. And some females, such as bumblebees and carpenter bees, don’t lose their stinger when they sting so they can sting more than once.
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 need medical attention. Most people are allergic to honeybee venom and not the venom of native ground 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 into 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 to protect its territory and keep mating rights to the female bees in that territory.
Male ground bees fight in mid-air by wrestling each other, butting heads, and bumping each other to the ground.
If a male survives the territorial wars (which most do), he dies shortly after mating with the females.
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 are only in the area for a month to a month and a half, and then you probably won’t see any again until spring the following year.
If you have ground bees in your backyard, avoid the area for a month or so, and keep pets and small children away too.
Yellow jackets are not ground bees
Yellow jackets 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.
Yellow jackets are most active in late summer and early fall, while ground bees are active in early spring.
If you have yellow jackets in your backyard, it’s best to stay away from them and hang these yellowjacket traps to catch them (just make sure you order the right formula for your area).
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’s a list of insects and animals that enjoy eating ground bees:
- Birds, such as bee-eaters, tits, shrikes, and woodpeckers
- Crab spiders
- Robber flies
- Small mammals, such as skunks, rodents, weasels, and foxes
- Wasps (click here to find out what pests wasps eat)