All About Sweat Bees

Have you ever heard of sweat bees?

Here are some common, frequently asked questions about these busy, beneficial little bees…

What are Sweat Bees?

Commonly referred to as sweat bees or sugar bag bees, these bees are the second largest family of bees worldwide. Scientifically known as Halictidae, they usually have a dark metallic appearance.

There are one thousand varieties worldwide. Females carry pollen on their legs. They have complex digestive processes which enable them to manage more varying types of pollen than other bee species can.

 Identifying a Sweat Bee

Often very small at just 4-5mm in length, many people will not even notice they are there, though they can be seen buzzing around the garden with pollen on their back legs.

Sweat bees usually have a very dark metallic appearance. Some species are green, blue or bronze, while a few are red. Many of the males have yellow faces. The males tend to be slimmer than females.

How Long do Sweat Bees Live?

sweat beesThese little bees are eusocial; this means they can either be solitary or live in a cooperative caste system with one reproductively active queen and several males, alongside non-breeding female bees which protect and provide for the group, as well as caring for the young bees. The division of labor within the system is not as rigid as for honeybees. One worker bee guards the nest while others dig nesting burrows or create a hive.

Where Do They Live?

They are more prevalent in warmer tropical climates.

These bees may live in ground nests, where they burrow into the soil, however many will nest in wood (hollow trees, wall cavities) and even under concrete paths. Their nest in trees is crafted from tree resin mixed with beeswax and has a center of spiral-shaped honeycomb.

Unlike honeybees, they provide their egg with all the food it will require as a larva at the time of laying. This means the mass of pollen and nectar is formed inside the waterproof egg cell, which is sealed after the egg is laid.

What are Sweat Bees Attracted To?

As per their name, sweat bees are attracted to perspiration. They have short tongues, and they will land on people to lap up human sweat. This is often used to supplement their diet of pollen and nectar.

Do they Sting?

Some sweat bees are sting less. They occur in large numbers but are not aggressive. They are essentially harmless to humans.

Some species of sweat bees may very rarely sting; if they do, it’s only if they are disturbed and the sting is relatively very minor unless you are allergic to bee venom. The bees usually need to be actively pressed against the skin to achieve a sting. Only the females can potentially sting. They do not die after stinging as a honeybee does.

How to Control Sweat Bees

These bees are no threat to humans, though they can be annoying on hot summer days when they may seek to supplement their diets with human sweat. They can, however, be a nuisance if swarming around your home in large numbers.

It’s best to let them go about their business of pollinating.

male sweat beeAvoid Stimulating Defensive Behavior:

 

  • Minimize vibrations in the ground near the nest
  • Don’t get between the bee and her nest
  • Avoid moving dark shadows over the nest (they will think a predator is approaching)

If you have sweat bees in your wall cavity, call a bee control expert to safely and humanely move them on.

Are Sweat Bees Good for the Garden and the Environment?

They are very important pollinators, and as such are very good for your garden and the wider environment. They will pollinate almost any available flower, and they are crucial to the pollination of local native plants as well as plants including wildflowers, sunflowers, alfalfa, and stone fruit crops.

Embrace having these little bees in your garden and enjoy the knowledge they’re helping deliver beautiful plants and flowers for you!