Ground-Nesting Bees in Albuquerque Parks
By now, some of you may have noticed that there are a number of small, fast bees flying low over bare dirt areas in some of our parks; commonly this happens around kids’ playground equipment, as those areas often have a bare dirt/sand surface But don’t grab your kids and run for the car! Instead, take a few minutes to sit with the kids and watch the bees. You may notice some are about the size of honey bees, but many are quite a bit smaller.
There are many species of ground nesting bees in New Mexico. All are important pollinators, and in that way they are similar to the more common honey bee. There are some important differences, though. First and foremost, these bees (sometimes called miner or digger bees) are not aggressive and most of the ones you’ll see flying can’t sting anyway – they’re males, trying to establish mating territories.
Secondly, these are solitary bees. They don’t live in big colonies, or hives, like honeybees. However, like a lot of us, they enjoy each other’s company, so they often make their individual nests all in the same area. They like dry dirt to dig their nest holes in, which is why our playground areas are so attractive.
Finally, they have a very short life span, as flying adults. Most will be gone within 2-4 weeks! They spend the rest of their life cycle below ground as eggs or developing larvae.
So, to put it all together: harmless, ecologically important but very temporary, and a natural part of our southwestern ecosystem. Given all of that, it is our policy here at Park Management to tread lightly and let them have their time.
If we did want to kill them off, we would have to treat the play areas with insecticides. Besides the obvious damage to the beneficial and important pollinators, this would leave toxic chemical residues in the soil around the kids play structures. We don’t want risk that exposure to our children!
Please be patient if you have concerns about these bees. They will fade away soon for this year. Take some time to watch them do their thing – what a great learning moment for urban kids who may be suffering from a lack of connection to their natural world.
Joran Viers, City Forester