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The fascinating digger bee

June 10, 2010
By Stephanie Bethke-DeJaeghere

I like watching the insects that come to our various gardens during the summer.

Sure, we do have to deal with mosquitoes but it is always breezy or down right windy all of the time that they can not seem to be able to land on you-not very often anyway.

This past week the boys and I discovered much to our delight (mostly theirs, to be honest) that the dill was covered in Parsley swallowtail caterpillars. These sort of look like Monarch butterfly caterpillars but if you hold one of each in your hand, you can see they are different. For one, Monarchs usually do not feed on dill and prefer the milkweed plants that we allowed to grow up in the gardens over the dill.

The boys think they are cool because they feel rubbery. They handle them ever so carefully and after they have checked them over, the place them back on the dill so they can catch them again the next day.

This past week, however, has brought us a new insect to our garden that is even more fascinating, digging bees. Since we all know the story or plight (?) of the honey bees, bees of any kind in the garden tend to catch our interest right away. We used to have a company that placed bee hives just down the road from us but they didn't come this year.

So, now we have many, many bumblebees and now these curious little digging bees. They fly very closely to the ground near our corn and pumpkin patch and while watering the garden, they have made for great entertainment and also some wonder. What kind are these and why are they digging? I have never seen bees actually digging in the soil and it is rather comical to watch these tiny backhoes digging around, seeing the dirt fly up after them, before they fly away, zig-zagging here and there, landing, and then starting the whole process over again.

Generally, insects are not named some simple name, just the Latin name alone will tongue tie you but these bees are simply called Digger Bees or Burrowing Bees.

They are also known as Flower bees. They like to make their nests in sand or clay banks which could be the very case in our bees' lives. The vegetable garden from which they seem to be doing rather well is near an old cattle pond.

So, I would guess that their home in part of this area. They like to collect nectar and pollen from many different kinds of flowers in garden and meadows (something that we have plenty of). In the soil around the garden, especially since I have been taking extra care to water, these tiny chimney like structures are being built and if you care to get down on your knees and look inside, you will find a bee in there doing their bee kind of things.

Actually what it is that they are doing is making sure that they eggs that are deposited inside are doing OK; they will lay one egg per chamber or brood cell. They place honey and pollen in each cell to provide food for the new little one after the egg hatches. The larvae over winter in the brood cell, pupate and emerge as an adult in late spring.

It is really great either which way to be able to watch them and to think about all of the plants that they are busy pollinating. It should be a bumper crop of pumpkins, gourds and winter squash this year!

For more information on gardening, you can reach me at



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