Pollinators in the Garden: Sweat Bees

I have a confession to make: I’m a huge bee nerd.

I know those of you who read regularly are thinking, “Um, duh. This is like your fourth post about bees.”  But for those of you who don’t, you’ve been warned.  Let the nerd-osity begin.

The collection of bees known colloquially as “sweat bees” are actually from a bunch of different genera in a bunch of different families.  But basically, they’re tiny black or blue-green bees (think about the length of your pinky nail) that will supposedly land on you and try to lick up your sweat.  Maybe they’re salt-deprived?  We are pretty far from the ocean, but Chicago is the home of Morton salt, so you’d think they’d have plenty to lick up without landing on unsuspecting garden visitors.

I’ve been noticing a bunch of sweat bees foraging on the dill blooming next to our planter boxes.  Check them out for yourself:

Best guess from a bee nerd? A Lasioglossum on the left and a Hylaeus on the right.

Hylaeus bees have epic war paint on their faces and yellow 80s-esque shoulder pads.

True sweat bees are ground-nesters in the genus Lasioglossum, subgenus Dialictus.  These guys are pretty common in this area and do pretty well in the city as well as in the suburbs.  In our garden, they pollinate watermelons, tomatoes, blueberries, and peppers.

Bees in the genus Hylaeus nest in cavities like dead stems, abandoned beetle burrows or nail holes in wood.  These bees are particularly diverse in the Hawaiian Islands and are at risk of extinction there.  You can read more about that here: http://www.xerces.org/hawaiian-yellow-faced-bees/

Either way, these guys are pretty cute and important and underappreciated pollinators.  So if they try to lick up your sweat, don’t swat: they’re actually pretty sweet.

– Jackie

A sweat bee living up to its name on my shoulder.


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