On a mid-February Florida afternoon, Anne steps out the back door and hastily retreats. “There are lots of bees flying in the backyard.” As I opened the door, I instantly hear the faint, but distinctive hum of bees. There are dozens of small bees flying inches above the ground and hovering over what looks like anthills with large holes.
These are solitary bees. Unlike honey bees where there is one queen with all her workers in a hive, the solitary bee female excavates an underground tunnel branched with chambers. She deposits nectar and pollen collected from nearby flowers in these compartments where she lays a single egg in each cell. Hatching larvae will eat the pollen and nectar, pupate and hatch as an adult bee.
Adult solitary bees are short-lived. Once its task of laying eggs is done, it dies so you may only see them for a couple of weeks each spring. Most of their lives exist underground as an egg, a larva or a pupa.
Solitary bees are very gentle and will not sting unless you were to catch one and squeeze it. I was able to walk among the bees to take pictures without fear of reprisal. A word of caution though. There are species of bees, yellow jackets, hornets and wasps that also burrow in the ground and these can be aggressive and nasty.
Native bees have been in North America long before the European settlers imported the honey bee. Since there has been tremendous die offs of honey bee colonies recently, native species of bees, like the solitary bee, play an important role in pollinating plants. Embrace these beneficial native bees.