A treasure at the farm: the native miner-bee colony

Posted on Jul 3, 2015 | Comments Off on A treasure at the farm: the native miner-bee colony

When we were buying this farm one of the owners walked us around to a red clay patch of bare dirt on the east side of the house. It’s an area under an addition that juts out over a steep slope. A series of tiny arched entrances the size of your fingertip covered the slope like an adobe village in miniature.  This was the first time I had ever seen a colony of miner bees or chimney bees…


The residents look like half-pint bumble bees moving very fast flying in and out of their metropolis. Jerry explained that they were harmless and lived in this same patch of ground every summer. He seemed protective of the little fuzzy bees and of course I loved that. I reassured him we would look after the the village. I had to look them up to find out exactly what kind of bees they were.


Mendy and I have enjoyed watching for the return of the miner bees these two summers in mid-June. Last year there were downpours that drenched the patch of ground and the nesting area was alarmingly small. I roped off the area with flagging tape to keep farm dog Ada, who hates flagging tape, from tromping over the dirt when the bees aren’t active. Their loud buzzing keeps her clear during their nesting season.  She has learned her lesson sticking her head too near a honey bee hive.

Though these little bees, I looked up online, don’t sting but will bite if threatened. Ada says better safe than sorry…  They are about half the size of a bumble bee and look like this online photo below. The live ones are MUCH to fast for me to photograph so far.

miner bee web photo

I worried a bit that the competition from my honey bee hives might make it harder for them to find forage. This year I anxiously awaited for them to emerge after their diminished numbers in 2014. This year their nests cover most of the whole dirt patch and is busier than ever. I’ve noticed they seem to prefer different flowers than the honey bees so thankfully there’s enough blooming things for everyone.

In the photo below you can see wet mud of houses under construction. They have a favorite little sand bar in the creek where they get water. They love it when I water some shrubs near their colony though and collect water from the droplets left on the leaves.


The other morning I was out taking care of the chickens when I heard a loud buzz coming from my neighbor’s field along the fence line. Thinking one of my hives might have swarmed I started looking around for the source of the hum. Turns out it was the music of dozens of miner bees working the modest blooms of plantain and clover tucked among the field grass. The whole field was abuzz with their joyous work. What a gift I was accidentally there to hear it.

To learn more about miner/chimney bees, check out this link:


A 15 second video I took of our colony. The are HARD to video as they move much faster than honey bees! Toward the end of the video, note the bee that rushes into a hole, then realizes it’s not hers, backs out and goes in the next one. 🙂 Here is the link if you are reading this on email: https://youtu.be/inLNgbhhQM4

Thank you for visiting today!

bee painting



TO make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.

—Emily Dickinson (1830–86)

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