Digger Bees

Where the Diggers Dig

The farm has a beautiful manmade lake where the Digger bees come once every year to the water’s edge. Hundreds and hundreds were here building nests when I was here. The terrain is on a high south-facing mound so the bees have a home that will not flood from the rains or the lake.

The bees are present in April and May and can fly in cooler temperatures than other pollinators. These bees go hand in hand with the flowering fruit trees. They are great little pollinators. Oddly, they are not common in large orchards, possibly because a commercial orchard has to keep weeds down so tills and sprays the rows of trees. Another reason is these bees do not fly long distance to forage and require a nest near their feeding tree.

Digger bees make up 60% of the bee population in New York State. Digger bees are ground nesting, solitary bees such as Andrena, Lasioglossum, and Melissodes. I believe my bee is an Andrena. They are a genus within a family of about 1300 to 1500 species.

They are very docile bees and will not sting unless trapped. The males cannot sting at all. I noticed one bee per hole constructing the nest.

They are here at the site for a very short time in Spring. They arrive just after the skunks get done digging here for grubs. The earth is soft, loose and mounded, apparently the right consistency for the bees.

They are not very big bees, a little less than 1/2 inch long. Parasitic insects may try to steal into the nests, the one most common is a cuckoo bee. They lay their eggs in the nest and their young hatch first to devour the digger bee larva, then eat the food stored by the digger bee.

They pop in and out of the holes, lining their brood cells with a wax-like secretion. When they complete the cells, the females collect pollen which they pack into the chamber, then lay the egg in the completed cell.

They work in tight quarters with many bees burrowing like a ‘bee development’. There are three in the image above.

Here are the finished burrows.

I am not sure which is the better nest, but the bees like sandy soils with free open spaces. They prefer an area of no plants threatening to either overgrow the nest or destroy it by means of their roots. The area at the lake has no plants other than native weeds and grasses. The adult bees die shortly after laying the eggs, so this opens the nest up to parasitic bees.

Did you know that New York State has 477 species of bees in 47 genera, but the majority of the bees are Digger bees? A few new bees are developing in the holes to start the next generation.

For some bee ‘portraits’ and fun bee facts, see my post Buzz on Bees.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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22 Responses to Digger Bees

  1. katsmama says:

    wow- I love these close-ups. This is my first visit to your site- I like it.

  2. Angel says:

    Interesting post! Great close-up shots of the bees. I have a soft spot for bees in general, I enjoyed reading this.

  3. Andrea says:

    Hi Donna, i’ve been absent here for a while, noticed i missed a few posts but i’ve been to them now. I am awed at the number of species and genera of bees in your area. So, why do the farms still need the bee companies which carry their workers on trucks! Here, i noticed bees digging on tree holes but i’ve never seen any burrowing on sand or soil.

  4. Excellent photos Donna! I find a number of digger bee nest holes here, and am so happy to see them here. We have seriously sandy soils which seem to suit them well. Sometimes though, they take a second look to distinguish them from all our honey bees here, as they’re not all that dissimilar from honey bees in appearance!

  5. Mac_fromAustralia says:

    Fascinating. As Angel in a previous comment said, I also have a soft spot for bees.

  6. lifeshighway says:

    I am always learning something different over here. I have never heard of digger bees. The only bees that I know that live in the ground are not bees at all, I believe they must be a form of wasp: the yellow jacket. Very aggressive, unpleasant little critters.

  7. What fascinating creatures – and pretty too, in an understated sort of way.

  8. linniew says:

    Hi Donna
    Thanks for visiting my blog because that led me here, to your truly fun and so creative work! I am in Oregon and I have never in my life heard of digger bees. Your images and information were perfect, thanks for educating me. (I love our honeybees and bumblebees and plant for them in my gardens.) Your blog is rich and complex. I’ll be back!

  9. Greggo says:

    nice educating post..

  10. Leovi says:

    Beautiful framing, great.

  11. b-a-g says:

    I have never heard of digger bees either. I wonder how they figure out the ideal locations for their nests.

  12. Holley says:

    Very interesting that they are so common there. I have never heard of these.

  13. dona says:

    Wow! I’d never heard of ground-nesting bees! That’s really interesting, and you took wonderful photos as well!

  14. Karen says:

    Donna, the digger bees are fascinating, I’ve never seen them around here. How interesting to read about their habits and their predators and as always, your photography is stunning.

  15. Donna, Growing up we had what we called “bomber bees” that behaved like this by burrowing into the ground on a small hill at the end of our swimming pool. Except they were huge. Could they be a type of digger bee? I loved them. Carolyn

  16. Donna says:

    Well I can attest to there being a lot of digger or what we call ground bees here in CNY….they ironically burrow in our grass and in my gardens…nasty little bugs if disturbed I can tell you that…I did not know it was the majority of our bees…love the lesson Donna

  17. I’m always amazed at nature’s order and timing. First the grubs, then the skunks and then the bees. Without the grubs, would we have the bees? Nice post. Thanks!

  18. One says:

    This is interesting! I have found beetles in the ground but didn’t know bees are also capable of digging. Learnt something from you again. Thanks.

  19. Masha says:

    Wow, great story and wonderful pictures. I really enjoyed learning about digger bees, you are very knowledgeable. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Very interesting read! Thanks for sharing all your knowledge on these great little bees! Super photos too!

  21. lula says:

    What a landscape in the ifrst iamge, One can live there and feel nature! Lula

  22. Wow – what a fabulous and informational post! I would be so worried i’d step on one of their nests……yikes! Thanks so much for linking up to Cottage Flora Thursday’s – hope to see you again next week! oxox, tracie

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