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I have seen some postings this week about concerns over the bees people are seeing in the ground. I suspect we are seeing more of them this year because we had an unusually dry early spring. The ground has been dry and compact, which some species really love.
There's a huge difference between honeybees, which are social insects and live together in a hive and ground bees, which are solitary but tend to set up colonies. Both are valuable pollinators. Ground bees tend to come out in huge numbers around the first really hot days of mid spring. Honeybees will sometimes swarm and the swarms can be gathered up and removed carefully by a professional. Ground bees cannot.
The term ground bee is kind of a misnomer. A lot -- like more than a few thousand -- species of native bees live in the ground in North America. Almost all of the species are important pollinators of our trees, flowers, etc. They are docile and VERY tiny. In fact, you probably have them around you all the time and don't notice it. When you do notice them you see that they are very colorful and (to me) -- cute as a button. Many many one tiny hole in loose ground and lay one egg. That's it. I try to encourage many species of them by not raking under my shrubs. They like that. They also like the loose soil in my veggie garden. I feel kind of bad for them when I see that my tilling or digging has destroyed their nests. I'm funny that way. :)
FWIW yellow jackets will set up huge colonies and be very aggressive. They are just getting started out there now, and their nests are one large hole (about the size of a golf ball or slightly smaller) and they all come in and out of that one door. (Ground bees have lots of holes together.) YELLOW JACKETS are not cute, even to me. Interesting yes. Cute, no. They are WASPS AND THEY ARE like the sharks of the insect world in my mind.
Anyhow. The ones I think we are mostly seeing this year are the larger "ground bees" that can be a bit alarming due to size and the fact that they set up large colonies in dry, compacted soil. I searched around for a reputable source of info online and thought that the University of Georgia Urban Agriculture site was good. It is really interesting, and I think I agree with what they say on this site about pesticides -- the cure is worse often than the problem -- since these bees are not aggressive. Still, I understand what it is like worry about young kids stepping on a bee colony... but I also worry about exposing my kids to lots of chemicals and those chemicals all go into the Bay.... And as they point out here these bees are only around for a few weeks but the chemicals linger much longer than that. Anyway, here's the site and do what you want with the info:
Although it is from GA most of the info applies to us here, too in this case.
Bees rarely sting people. Yes, stepping on them is a risk, and occasionally people might disrupt a nest or hive and cause a swarm, but this behavior is rare. Unless you are allergic to bee stings, bees are usually harmless if you stay quiet around them. Bees can only sting once...then they die. So they only do it to protect the hive or when they have no choice (like you stepped on them). Bees are generally uninterested in people and we don't encounter them that much.
Yellow jackets, on the other hand, are total jerks. Not to mention, they are interested in your sugary drinks and other human food. They are often in conflict with humans and they sting with minimal (sometimes no) provocation. Yellow jackets can sting multiple times and can be aggressive. If you've had a picnic ruined, no doubt it was their fault.
The two animals are completely different in terms of their sting (viz allergies) and control/extermination. You should never NEED to control bees; yellow jackets and other wasps are another story.
You can easily tell the difference between a yellow jacket and a bee:
Bees are fuzzy and have no waist. Yellow jackets are not fuzzy and have a narrow "wasp waist."
Alison Gillespie (301) 385-0313 firstname.lastname@example.org [whereyouareplanted.blogspot.com]
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