While walking through your yard or gardening, you may have noticed flying insects go into the ground or seen mounds of soil around holes in the earth. Several kinds of flying insects make their homes in soil, especially many species in the order Hymenoptera, which includes bees, wasps and ants.
Many species of bees, wasps and hornets are social, which means they have complex family structures and the families live together. Many solitary species or those that live singly also are common.
Digger bees, also called mining bees, are solitary insects that create small burrows in soil. In many cases, several queen digger bees will dig their burrows close together. Many digger bees cannot sting, and others rarely do so. These bees are important pollinators; they pollinate as they collect pollen and nectar for their young.
Digger bees tend to be honeybee-size or much smaller and vary greatly in appearance. Some species have stripes and others are metallic green, according to University of Maryland Extension.
You may be alarmed at the sight of numerous digger bees hovering around a small area, but their presence is not a cause for fright. These bees typically prefer grass-free areas, whether caused from drought or shade. If their presence is too much to handle, try watering the area, laying mulch or planting shade-tolerant turf grass to deter the bees from nesting there.
Like digger bees, ground-nesting wasps are also solitary and prefer to make their nests in soil. Several types of ground-nesting wasps inhabit different areas. They include cicada killer, scoliid and spider wasps. Consider these wasps beneficial because most rarely sting, and all prey on other arthropods in lawns.
Cicada Killer Wasps
A cicada killer can grow more than 1 1/2 inches long and has a black abdomen with yellow, orangish or reddish bands and markings. The female digs burrows up to 4 feet deep with numerous branching terminals. This wasp usually burrows in loose soil, including play sand and tilled vegetable gardens.
As its common name suggests, the cicada killer exclusively hunts cicadas. The female paralyzes a cicada and stuffs it into an underground brooding cell to feed a young cicada killer in the larval stage of development.
Like digger bees, cicada killers are solitary insects but may build their nests in very close proximity to one another. The males cannot sting but may hover near anything that gets close to their area. The females, on the other hand, have large stingers, although they are not aggressive and do not actively guard their nests like many other Hymenoptera species.
Scoliid wasps prey upon white grubs -- the types that damage lawns and roots. Like other solitary wasps, female scoliids paralyze their prey to feed to their larvae underground.
Scoliid wasps have thick bodies that are black with white, red and/or yellow, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension. They range from under 1/2 to almost 1 1/2 inches long.
"Spider wasps" is the name of a broad group that includes several narrow-waisted wasp species. Most grow about 1/2 inch long and have long, thin legs. Many spider wasps are dark, either black or blue, and you may encounter them as they hunt along the ground for spiders. Like other solitary wasps, they are non-aggressive and rarely sting unless handled roughly.
Many of the females build burrows in the ground; however, mud daubers also belong to the spider wasps group, and they build cylindrical mud nests on vertical surfaces.
Yellowjackets are social wasps that often build their nests underground in old rodent burrows or hollow wood. Yellowjackets are much more aggressive than other ground-dwelling wasps and readily attack when threatened.
These stocky wasps have distinctive yellow and black bodies. Sterile females, which are those people most often encounter, grow about 1/2 inch long. They often buzz around trashcans, picnics and barbecues looking for sources of food -- even meat; yellowjackets are beneficial due to their diet of pest arthropods such as earwigs.
If yellowjackets are not in an area with heavy human traffic, then leaving them alone is the best practice. If controlling them is warranted, find the location of their nest during the day, and pour a mixture of soap and water into the entrance at night. Wear a thick long-sleeved shirt, long pants, socks, closed-toe shoes, a hat, goggles and gloves because yellowjackets can sting repeatedly.
Ants and Termites
Although you may not think of ants and termites as flying insects, the sexually mature adults have wings and swarm. Some species colonize in the ground. You may notice swarms of them flying about, and going into and coming out of the ground while they look for nesting sites.
Flying ants and termites may look similar. Both have long, clear, membranous wings that exceed the length of their bodies. An adult termite's wings, however, are much longer than its body. A termite's body is roughly the same width throughout, but an ant's body has a narrow waist between its midsection and abdomen.