We usually think of bees living in beehives and in green zones, where flowers are abundant for their nectar and pollen needs. But even solitary bees that live in our gardens sometimes burrow into the sand to nest.
The fact is, some bees love sandy landscapes far, far away from urban life, just as much as other insects do.
An article by Will Parson followed biologists Sam Droege of the US Geological Survey’s Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab, and Jonathan Mawdsley, a research associate with the Smithsonian Institution, as they went exploring in the month of March near a swampy forest strewn with garbage. It had rained earlier, and the temperature was starting to rise.
They were not far from the Little Patuxent River in Maryland. The location was not random. Mawdsley had discovered it while searching for raw undisturbed land by scanning satellite images on Google Maps. It had been mined for sand decades earlier, was then abandoned, and had returned to a natural state over time.
Droege was searching for ground-nesting beetles and Mawdsley wanted to find tiger beetles. Both insects make their habitats in exposed, sandy soil.
Droege has spent time surveying at the nearby Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, where there are also abandoned sand mines. He found rare bee species, even one that was new to science. The abandoned mines showed promise as valuable habitats for the future. He thought the Jug Bay rare bees that are the same as sand mine bees might be at this new location as well.
This unrelated video about solitary bees lasts 5:18 minutes and has some spectacular visuals:
As they walked a dirt road the forest opened into an expanse of red, bare clay that was about 200 yards across. White-blooming callery pear trees, an invasive species from Asia, were scattered at forest’s edge. It was like a forgotten landscape and didn’t seem capable of supporting sand-loving bees.
Mawdsley explained that wasps, beetles and lots of living things nest in clay. A tiger beetle flew by and kept going. They walked on, taking samples, and Droege found a few bees on callery pears. These trees offer early pollen for pollinators and bees emerging from winter until more interesting flower flavors become available.
They found even steeper piles of sand, and lots more trash nearby. Small holes had been freshly dug into the soil. Droege thought the area was a nice bee habitat even if it was unappealing to humans. He saw a female mining bee, genus Andrena, that was probably nesting and found a type of bee that mimics wasps, the Nomada, which is a cuckoo bee. The Nomada is a parasite bee that attacks the nests of Andrena bees and takes over their food-packed holes so it can lay its own eggs inside.
After two hours in cloudy weather, the biologists headed back. Their beetle and bee treasures were intended for collections at the Smithsonian.
They described the open, sandy habitat they had just explored as part of the micro-deserts along the Patuxent. According to Droege, such sandy habitats are where you go to look for rare things, so we need to conserve such habitats. Mawdsley added that abandoned, sandy stretches with discarded wares like roof shingles, mattresses and concrete piled high are exactly the types of things that 80% of native bees require as habitat.
If native bees are nesting in the ground at your home and you don't want them, please don't spray them with pesticide. Just use a hose to spray them with water and they will move on.
Do you have abandoned sandy areas where wild bees thrive in your area? Share with us over on our Facebook page.