Close to 500 different species of bees live in New York state alone, according to the New York State Biodiversity Clearinghouse. Ground bees, or bees that make their nests in the ground, make up the majority of New York's bees. Because ground bees are neither aggressive nor harmful to agriculture, it is best not to exterminate them.
Most people are familiar with honey bees: They are golden and black in color, and live in colonies or nests controlled by one lead, queen bee. Ground bees, on the other hand, tend to range in color from golden-gray to metallic green and live a more solitary lifestyle. Female ground bees tend to each create their own individual underground nest. Usually, ground bees are furry, and both smaller and darker than honey bees. Other names for ground bees are "mining bees" and "digger bees."
Ideal nesting spots for ground bees are in sunny locations, on embankments with little to no ground cover or low-lying shrubs and with good soil drainage. Ground bees are often difficult to spot. Their nests are loose mounds of soil constructed just 1 to 2 inches high with a small entrance hole in the center.
Ground bees are non-aggressive and rarely, if ever, sting. The structure of nests or burrows varies according to the species, but generally, female ground bees are known to build one main tunnel along with several other tunnels that branch off from the main one. Each side tunnel or "chamber" houses a single egg cell. Before laying her eggs, the female ground bee stocks each chamber with flower pollen and nectar. Once the eggs hatch, they are each fueled by their individual food stash. In the spring, mature bees emerge from their underground burrow to pollinate surrounding vegetation and to mate, while females restart the burrow building process.
Do no attempt to control or exterminate ground bees, as they pose no threat to humans or to agriculture. In fact, it can be argued that due to the structure of their nests, ground bees actually help to aerate the soil in which they are nesting. If several nests are built in one area and ground bee populations are actually becoming offensive, the simplest and most effective method of eliminating them is by drowning the nest out with a garden hose. To discourage ground bees from burrowing on your property, plant ground cover on any existing embankments.
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