Will the real sweat bee please reveal herself?
Almost half the sweat bees (image above) in the USA are green and blue and are very pretty to look at with their metallic sheen glowing bright in the sunlight. Other sweat bees have the standard ‘bee look’ of yellow and black and are harder to distinguish.
But in places like Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana there is an impostor on the loose. An insect that looks like a sweat bee but isn’t a sweat bee. It is known as a hover fly, syrphid fly or flower fly, and mimics a bee or wasp. It hovers like a helicopter. It visits flowers like bees do. It can be found around soybean and corn fields looking for old pollen. The hoverfly is drawn to the salts and minerals in human sweat but does not bite or sting. Bad luck for the hover fly, it gets swatted by scared humans bracing for a sting.
It can be hard to tell the difference between these insects, but there is one way to know. Flies have 2 wings while bees and wasps have 4 wings. Since these flies pollinate plants, eat bugs and don’t harm you, please let them live to see another day.
If you aren’t familiar with the sweat bee, it is a very small solitary bee that may live in an underground nest in your garden. You may see them flying low, the pollen baskets on their back legs laden with pollen which they gather to feed future baby bees.
Don’t fear these little bees but stay a respectable distance from them. You don’t want them to perceive you as a threat because the female has a nasty sting. It sets them off if you block their sunlight, throw a shadow over their nest, or accidentally block their nest entrance. Sudden movements are not a good idea. They can get defensive if an underground vibration is near their nest, like a passing lawn mower.
Sweat bees look for flat dry dirt to dig their nests in, so if you don’t want them in your garden simply plant something there like ground cover or use landscape fabric, wood chips, or pebbles. Put a nice planter there with herbs or flowers. These pollinators will enrich your garden, but more than a couple of nests might be too much. Please don’t harm them with pesticide, though. Use natural means to move them along or wet the area so they go looking for a drier place to build new nests.
Some sweat bees are more like bees and others are more like wasps. They got their name because the males, thinner than females, are drawn to the minerals in human moisture. The males enjoy human sweat and the females will sting. Pull the stinger out if one gets you so it stops pumping venom.
To keep your garden's sweat bees happy just leave them to their bee business.
Sweat bees and hover flies... can you tell the difference? If you have seen either of these in your area, please let us all know about it over on our Facebook page.
Isn’t nature incredible?