Maintenance & Operations

Managing and Understanding Mining Bees

Mining BeesAs spring is upon us, trees and flowers are in wide bloom. Along with mother-nature taking its course and the vegetation coming back to life from the winter’s sleep, many other creatures also begin to stir to get ready for spring and summer. Mining bees, also known as andrenid bees, are prevalent all over the country at this time of the year. The harmless bees can inhabit large ground spaces and can be found in very large numbers. It is not uncommon to see thousands of mining bees in or around school grounds. As this type of bee is very important to the environment and to the process of pollination, it is important to educate the school staff and children that often may be intimidated by mining bees.

A mining bee is about a quarter inch long. They have a black abdomen with white and yellow body hair. They occupy all sorts of land masses that include ball fields and adjacent areas around schools. The mining bee is a bee that burrows into the ground to construct their nests. These nests are built into mound like structures that may resemble ant nests. The volume of these bees in an established area can be overwhelming. The first instinct of the person that sees these bees around the ground is that they will be attacked or the bees will sting them. The female mining bee digs the burrow to house their offspring. The mining bee is very active for only about six to eight weeks. When active, the bees often swarm low to the ground. Due to the volume of the bees, people get very excited and think they will be stung, especially students. It is very important to educate the students and staff at schools where these bees may occupy ground space. Providing education and understanding of their function is important.

As these bees are important to the ecosystem, it is important to provide tolerance for this precious commodity. This acknowledgement should be a major influence on the educational piece for schools. Students and staff should be made aware that these native bees are very important pollinators. They should also be informed that they are not a serious pest issue. They are only active for several weeks and then they disappear. Once they complete their life cycle, they will not appear again until the following year. It is not recommended to exterminate these bees as they are very gentle and docile insects which are very unlikely to sting. During the time of activity, there are ways to educate students and staff, as well as other visitors to the school.

Mining BeesThe use of signage and informational tools are a great way to make the public aware of these bees. It can be very difficult to gather or hoard these bees. It may be very difficult to manage them during their active times of the year as well. If there is a desire for assistance for your school division, a professional insect or bee removal company should be consulted for this purpose. Pesticides should be a last resort as they are detrimental. This can wipe out an already decreased population of this type of species of bee. Pesticides sprayed around school areas are often not practical and may be toxic to the environment and to the children playing in these areas. Awareness and toleration may be the best option.

Children can be easily influenced and swarming bees can be alarming at first site. It is important to educate and reassure students and staff about this type of bee. The working habits of the mining bee are quite unique and they truly can be described as worker bees. If your school grounds are inhabited with this pollinating bee, share the space with them. The environment appreciates it. As the honey bee population continues to decrease, the work of the mining bee continues to be very important. Education is the key and keeping the students and staff informed is essential in being good stewards of the environment and the ecosystem.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

John A. Bailey, Ph.D. is the director of School Plants for Chesapeake Public Schools and a National School Plant Managers Association board member, representing Virginia, and a Virginia School Plant Managers Association board member, representing Region II, in Virginia.

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