Solitary Bees Are Pollinators Too

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Bees in the lawn?

Have you noticed bees flying low along your grass and digging little holes?

If so, you might have digger bees.

Many common species of solitary bees nest in individual holes in the ground. Solitary bees don’t have queens and build colonies like honeybees and other social insects.

ground nesting bees

Digger Bees nesting near Foil Tatum Park

Digger bees range in size from 1/2 to 3/4 inches and may be a variety of colors such as blue, green, copper, or metallic reddish-brown. They may belong to one of several groups of bees, such as the membrane bees, digger bees, sweat bees, mason bees, and leafcutter bees, and occur across the state. In the evening, females dig nesting burrows reaching six or more inches deep. Small mounds of soil may appear around each nest opening. When there are large populations of bees, there are also many holes. Each hole belongs to an individual female. During the day, the active females collect pollen and nectar to carry back to the nest to form a “ball” 1/8 to 14 inch in diameter placed within a “cell” excavated in the side of the burrow. A single egg is laid upon the pollen ball in March, April, or early May. After hatching, the larva feeds on pollen and develops within the cell into a new generation of bees. The new generation emerges the following year in March or April. At this time, mating occurs, and bee activity begins to pick up as the nesting cycle resumes. Though adult bees feed on nectar, none store honey like honey bees. Solitary, ground-nesting bees play a vital role in ecological systems, especially in the pollination of crops and wild plants. Solitary bees are valuable pollinators and should not be destroyed unless there is some compelling reason.

Ground-nesting bees generally prefer nesting in areas with morning sun exposure and well-drained soils containing little organic matter. Burrows are often dug in areas of bare ground or sparse vegetation. These bees usually avoid damp soils. Damage to lawns and turf is usually very minimal. Solitary bees rarely sting, and there is no mass attack as might be found with honey bees or yellow jackets. You can continue mowing and other outdoor activities with little problem. However, with substantial populations, one may prefer to avoid the area for 4 to 6 weeks while nesting occurs. Cultural control methods include heavy watering or irrigation with a lawn sprinkler during the nest-building period to discourage nesting. Tilling soil to destroy tunnels may help, but establishing dense turf is probably the best discouragement to further nesting. Applications of heavy organic matter could be included as a soil amendment, if practical when tilling the soil. If the soil or location is not conducive to a healthy lawn, ground covers or heavy mulches may be an alternative solution.

photo of Danesha Seth Carley

Author Danesha Seth-Carley will speak at the Salisbury Civic Center on April 20.

In celebration of spring and all pollinators, N.C. Cooperative Extension, Rowan County Center, Hurley Park, and Salisbury Parks and Recreation have partnered to bring author Dr. Danesha Seth Carley, associate professor of horticultural science at North Carolina State University and director of the Southern Integrated Pest Management Center. Danesha is the author of Pollinator Gardening for the South: Creating Sustainable Habitats. Dr. Seth Carley will speak about pollinator gardening at the Salisbury Civic Center on Thursday, April 20th, 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m. This seminar is a free event, but seating is limited. Please register online at