Spring is fun, bright, lively and beautiful. We love the sights and sounds of new life in the garden, some of which may be unfamiliar or unusual looking at first glance.
If multiple small, strange looking mounds and bees flitting about describes your backyard, then the culprit is probably a type of bee that burrows into the soil.
Not all bees live in hives like honey bees. In fact, 70 percent of all the 20,000 species of bees are solitary bees that nest in the ground.
In North America, most of these ground bees become active in early spring, which is why we are starting to see their nesting sites popping up all over our yards. The nests are easy to identify. They look like conical piles of dirt that somewhat resemble the shape of a volcano and have a large hole in the center that serves as the entrance to the bee burrows.
My favorite insect, the southeastern blueberry bee (Habropoda laboriosa), is a ground bee. It resembles a small bumble bee (Bombus spp.) and is a common native solitary bee that is most often seen working blueberry flowers.
As the name implies, blueberries are one of its preferred forage plants. But it is also seen working redbud, Carolina jessamine, wild blueberries and other members of the Ericaceae family.
The bee has one generation per year, but one individual bee can visit as many as 50,000 blueberry flowers. This bee works blueberry flowers by "sonicating" or buzzing when it lands on a flower. This activity shakes pollen down onto the bee’s abdomen where it collects it.
Even though this bee is solitary, meaning that every individual female builds her own nest, it is also a gregarious nester, meaning many females – hundreds and sometimes thousands – build their nests next to each other.
The southeastern blueberry bee and many other native bees have a strong preference for sandy soils on south-facing slopes. The females dig holes in the ground up to about 6 inches deep and they pile earth around the sides of the hole. There can be many holes in one area, making it look like a ground bee community.
The female bee makes her nest in these holes to raise her young. She collects pollen and nectar and stocks the nest with it for the young bees to eat. The bees can be very active in March and April as they build and stock these nests.
Thus, if you have these conditions in your backyard, you may find these bees showing up every year where you live. Unlike social bees and wasps, solitary species are not aggressive insects. Though females can sting, these bees will not attempt to sting humans unless handled or provoked.
Most of the activity at the nesting sites in early spring is from males looking for females with which to mate. Male bees cannot sting, so the bees typically cause little to no problems and the digging should not be enough to permanently damage the lawn.
The bees are not particularly aggressive, so you should be able to garden and mow grass around them with little to no issues. Again, the bees are not likely to sting, so I would only be concerned about working around them if I was extremely allergic to bee stings.
Most people do not realize that there were no honey bees in America until hives were brought from Europe. Native pollinators, particularly bees, had been doing all the pollination in this continent before the arrival of that import from the Old World, and they continue to do a great deal of it, especially when it comes to native plants.
All of the native bee species provide important ecological services that include pollinating many of the plants in your garden and nearby spring crops like apples, blueberries and cherries.
Therefore, we do not recommend any chemical controls for the bees. They serve as pollinators and do not cause irreparable harm to lawns. They generally only stick around for four to six weeks and then disappear until next year.
But if you are dead-set on doing something about the mounds, water the area to resettle the soil. Usually, lightly irrigating with water over the area of the nesting site is enough to encourage the bees to look for a different nesting area.
However, due to their beneficial role as pollinators and their lack of aggressive behavior, please consider maintaining these important bee pollinators in your backyard.
Due to habitat destruction, our pollinators are in far fewer numbers than in the past, with monarch butterfly populations being 10 percent of what they once were.
To help our native bees and other pollinators, UGA Extension is encouraging the creation of specific pollinator spaces in community and school gardens with its Pollinator Spaces Project, but anyone is welcome to participate in this statewide effort.
Many gardens across the state have already stepped up and added pollinator habitat to their gardens. If you would like to learn more about how to protect and encourage these wonderful insects to nest in your yard, please do not hesitate to call the Extension office in Hinesville at 912-876-2133 or email at email@example.com.