Sweat Bees

Because we focus the majority of our time and energy into honey bees by working in the field, running samples and writing reports, it is easy for us to forget that other pollinators exist and play an important part in our ecosystem. One such example of another valuable pollinator is the sweat bee, or Halictidae, from the order of Hymentoptera. Per Bug Guide there are over 4,300 species and ~80 genera worldwide https://bugguide.net/node/view/128

Photo Credit: http://waynesword.palomar.edu/redmite8.htm

These tiny bees range from the less than 1/4 inch to 3/4 inch in length and can have bright, dark or metallic coloring. You may recognize the most commonly seen sweat bee with a green, metallic exoskeleton in the photo below. Sweat bees occupy a number of different habitats such as city sidewalk cracks or soil, but lucky for us, are non-aggressive. They most often nest in the ground though a few varieties make their homes in rotting wood. While some sweat bees are solitary others are more social, building nests together. For example, those that nest in the ground begin to do so in April, digging burrows in soil and then placing pollen and nectar at the end of the tunnels in preparation for larvae. Some of the overwintered females in the nest will take on the worker function while others will lay eggs and eventually, only one egg laying female remains. At this point some of the females will mate; lay eggs that overwinter as larvae or pupae, living through the winter to begin the process again the next spring.

Photo credit: http://greennature.com/gallery/wasp-pictures/halictus.html

Sweat bees benefit plants as they feed on nectar and pollen, pollinating in the process.  You may be wondering where they get the name ‘sweat bee.’ While they do feed on pollen and nectar, the bee is also attracted to human perspiration. Yum. A light brush will dislodge them and they will most likely not bother you again, however if you do happen to get stung it is not a painful as that of a honey bee. Male sweat bees, common with Apis species, also do not sting. So although the bees can be annoying in the heat of the summer, they are really nothing to worry about, rather they are just another important pollinator that helps to keep our ecosystem running smoothly.


Written By: Jennie Stitzinger

Jennie Stitzinger has written 55 post in this blog.

In the summer of 2010 I walked in to the Penn State Agricultural Sciences building to inquire about a job a friend had mentioned to me. I was a poor college student, I needed to pay my summer rent, I was offered the job and I took it—I had no idea what I was in for. Fast forward a little over a year and I was kneeling on rocks and mud, in the cold, northern California rain, surrounded by dairy cows and hundreds of hives while Africanized bees were pinging off my bee suit. With a degree in Community Development from Penn State University, I never thought in a million years I would be working with honey bees upon graduation, but I guess life sure has its surprises. Now a member of the University of Maryland Diagnostic team, I work on many different aspects of BIP and the National Honey Bee Survey. Whether it is field work, traveling, report writing, crunch time projects, or larger missions, I am most likely working on it. What is my favorite part of the job? Working on an awesome project that has impact and is helping beekeepers around the country, learning more about honey bees than I ever thought I wanted to know, and giving me experiences I never thought possible.


9 Responses to “Sweat Bees”

  1. Elizabeth Godwin

    Two questions: IF you are stung by a sweat bee, does the bee die? (Because I think honey bees or bumble bees DO die if they sting you- am I correct on this?)

  2. Larry

    The one flower this bee loves is the peppermint in bloom. They swarm to it by the hundreds making picking leaves for ice ted difficult.

  3. Ronald Johnson

    they look more like wasps than bees, but their diet is a big indicator that they are a bee. Personally, I love to tease sweat bees into stinging me just because it’s funny to see just how angry they really get. they are really docile until you immobilize them, and then they buzz around angrily, threatening you, and it can be quite a show. U can be stung multiple times by them, the same bee often returning immediately after being teased. It’s as much fun as feeding bumblebees pure sugar water, and watching their sugar high.