Miner Bees – Everything You Need to Know About Them

Today, you’ll learn everything you need to know about miner bees, including what to do about them.

Did you know that 70% of the 4,000+ different species of bees native to North America nest underground?

Whenever you think of bees, it probably conjures the image of a hive-building, honey-producing swarm that will sting you every chance they get.  You’re not alone.  Most of us spent our childhood wary of the painful sting that accompanies some of these bees.

Well, it turns out you weren’t given all the facts. Today, we’re going to look at the facts.  Specifically, how it relates to the miner bee.

If you are anything like I used to be, you probably don’t know whether miner bees are beneficial to your garden, how to find their nests, or how to get rid of them.  You’ll find all that here.

And you’ll also unearth (pun intended) the answer to the question we all have about bees…what about the sting?

What Are Miner Bees

Miner bees, also known as chimney bees, are friendly, non-aggressive bees that do not typically sting. They have a similar appearance to a bumble bee with a stout, furry body. They are beneficial insects that help pollinate. They are known as miner bees because they dig “mines” or holes in the ground to form their nests. 

Distinguishing Miner Bees From Other Types of Bees

It can be challenging to distinguish a solitary, ground-nesting miner bee from a small bumble-bee or wasp at first glance.  They are dark in color and banded.  They have a fuzzy appearance and are very similar in size to a small bumble-bee or wasp.

Since most of us are not experts in breaking down the appearance of a miner bee, what’s the solution?

The key is to pay close attention to what the miner bees do.

Most adult miner bees are directly tied to specific plants that they can pollinate.  They time their emergence to coincide with the blooming of particular spring flowers.  Miner bees are usually among the first you’ll see in the spring.  They will visit early spring wildflowers in your lawn to collect pollen and nectar as soon as March or April.(1)

Mining bees will even come out before the snow has melted off of the ground.

Another way to distinguish mining bees is to look for where they make their home. 

Miner bees will build their nests in areas of sandy or dry dirt.  The area will be sparse and have little plant life growing on it.  These areas can be old fields, dirt roads, or even hiking trails.

One of the most distinguishing features of a ground-nesting miner bee is that it is a solitary bee.  Solitary bees do not live in a hive.  They live alone in their nests.  Solitary bees do not have a queen they work for.  Miner bees live independently of one another.

Most of us associate bees with honey…but, mining bees do not produce honey, build a comb, or live in a hive.

Miner Bees’ Nests

Solitary, ground-nesting miner bees are “sub-social.”  This means they don’t have a hive or divide labor between workers and queens.

Instead, they have more of a communal arrangement.  Each adult miner bee keeps its own nest.  They live close to one another and share natural resources like flowers and other plants. 

Each adult female miner bee will generally build one nest.  Some females will create 2 or 3 nests.

The female bees begin building a nest by softening the ground with regurgitated water.  They remove the soil with their mandibles.  Each tunnel is about 1” deep and 4 ½ “ long. 

Once the nest’s tunnel into the soil is complete, the female miner bees will create five to eight cells inside each tunnel.  The female miner bee then lines each cell with a clear liquid from a gland located in its abdomen.

This lining serves two purposes.  It strengthens and waterproofs each cell.  It will also serve as a food source for the larvae of miner bee females.

If it isn’t already obvious, these female miner bees know how to work.

Once the tunnel complex is complete, the females then begin to construct a chimney or turret at the entrance.  Miner bee females do this by building up individual particles of soil around the tunnels’ entry point.

After all that building, surely it’s time for the female miner bees to take a break, right?  Wrong.

All of these tunnels are built with one thing in mind:  procreation.

So the adult females visit plants and flowers to collect pollen and nectar to bring back to their tunnels.  Each female miner bee then builds a pollen mass inside of each cell.  They do this by combining pollen, regurgitated nectar, and abdominal fluid into a mass.

Once miner bee females have formed the mass, they emerge from the nest to mate with the male miner bee.  The female miner bee then returns to place her eggs on top of this ball of pollen and nectar.  The adult females then close off each cell with soil for protection from predators.  After each cell has been completed, the female miner bee then returns to the surface and plugs up the tunnel entrance with soil from the ground.

The eggs of female bees will hatch into larvae about five days later.  These larvae will mature relatively quickly.  They will consume the pollen and nectar mass the females left in the cells.  The larvae will overwinter as pre-emergent adults within the individual cells.

The life cycle of the female miner bee is between 4 and 6 weeks.  The life cycle of miner bee males is half of that.  Generally, more males are produced than females each time miner bee eggs hatch.

Even though miner bee nests are close together, they are not colony-forming bees.  Miner bees simply share the same piece of suitable ground.

Beneficial Insects

Mining bees may not produce honey, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. In fact, unlike other pests, such as ants, who cause more harm than good, mining bees are considered beneficial insects.

Miner Bees Are Pollinators

Ground nesting mining bees play a significant role as a pollinator for your lawn and garden.  Remember that mining bees collect pollen and nectar to feed their larvae as well as themselves.  So these pollinators are spreading a lot of that golden goodness around your lawn and garden in early spring.

Miner Bees Don’t Produce honey

Wait, what?  How could that possibly be a good thing?

Honey is delicious.  Not just to people.

The fact that mining bees do not produce that sugary substance is a good thing.  You won’t have to worry about an errant bear, rats, raccoons, opossums, or any number of other wildlife invading your lawn or garden.

Miner Bees Are Not Aggressive

Unlike their hive-dwelling counterparts, mining bees don’t have a queen, a hive, or honey to protect.  The only time mining bees might be aggressive is to protect their eggs or young from a threat.

Miner Bees Help You With Your Yard Work

Mining bees tunnel in your ground to form their nests. By digging holes in your soil, they are also naturally aerating your soil.  So not only are these pollinators helping your plants on the surface, but they are also helping the roots underneath the ground, just as earthworms do.

The tunnel will allow water and nutrients to flow readily to the roots of your plants and flowers.  The bee tunnel will also ease compacted soil.

4 Steps to Getting Rid of Miner Bees

If you would like to get rid of miner bees even after hearing about their benefits, you’ll want to try the following:

Step 1: Plan Out a Nighttime Raid

If you haven’t already, you need to determine the location of the bee nesting site.  Miner bees fly low to the ground.  If you see a number of them flying low in a centralized area of your lawn or garden, you have probably found the nesting site.  You’ll need to remember this area of your lawn or garden.

Miner bees are less active at night.  So a nocturnal assault is your best bet. 

Before you set out, be sure to dress appropriately.  Wear long sleeves, long pants, boots, and gloves.  Even though miner bees are not usually combative, you are a threat to the young in their nest.  In this instance, they can be aggressive.  So protect yourself.

Using indirect lighting, make your way to the nesting site.  Try not to use a flashlight as this may attract them.  The only exception is if you cover the light with red cellophane as bees cannot see red.

Step 2: Spread Your Insecticide

Choose insecticide dust that is designed for ground-nesting bees and wasps.  Spread the insecticide dust over the nests and the soil around it.

Step 3: Rake Over the Nests

Use a rake or a garden hoe over the nests and the channels.  Destroy as many as possible.

Spread more of the insecticide dust over the site. 

As the miner bees emerge to begin rebuilding their nests, they will be coated by the poison.  When the miner bees go to groom themselves, they will ingest the poison and die.

Make sure you have exterminated the entire population of bees.

Step 4: Cover with Mulch or Sod

Wait two weeks and cover the area with mulch or sod.  Water the mulch or sod regularly.  Most species of miner bees do not like a moist environment.

Reconsider Trying to Get Rid of Miner Bees

Remember everything good you’ve read here about these bees.  The bees are not aggressive.  They are major pollinators and they improve the quality of the earth as they dig under your lawn or garden.

The only drawback is that they don’t produce honey.  If you want my opinion, I would rather have incredible flowers and vegetables in my garden than have honey (that would be difficult to harvest anyhow).

Plus, you never know when a bear might turn up.  No, thank you.

Do Miner Bees Sting

Here we are—the million-dollar question.  For most people, the determining factor about these bees usually rests in the answer to this question.

Male miner bees are pretty much only good for one thing.  Breeding.  They breed, and then they die.

Not only that, most species of male miner bees do not even have the equipment necessary to sting you.  Males are small and they are harmless.

Females do have a stinger. 

What they do not possess is the correct demeanor.  Miner bees are not prone to aggression unless they feel threatened.  This usually happens if you threaten their young.  They will protect each cell they have built by stinging you. 

Miner bee stings often won’t puncture the skin.  If it does puncture the skin, the effect is not nearly as painful as the sting of a wasp.

Bottom line, steer clear of them, and they will leave you “bee.”

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Happy Planting!

About the author: Carley Miller is a horticultural expert at TheGreenPinky. She previously owned a landscaping business for 25 years and worked at a local garden center for 10 years.

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