Sweat Bees

Around the world, there are 3500 species of Sweat bee (Halictidae) but only 40 types reside in the United Kingdom.

Many of these are solitary which means they don’t nest in large colonies but prefer to live their life alone. Having said this, some of them are classified as semi-social (or primitively eusocial). The different behaviour between the various species of Sweat bee (Halictidae) intrigue researchers so much that they are often used in behavioural studies.

What Do Sweat Bees Look Like?

Spotting Sweat bees (Halictidae) when you are out and about won’t be that hard since they gravitate towards the sweat on your skin. Essentially, all you need to look out for are the insects that seem bee-ish, who want your skin! 

Nevertheless, for the curious among you, we are going to tell you exactly what these little guys (and girls) look like.

The adult females are mostly black and metallic, but display white hairs at the top of their abdominal segments. They don’t have pollen baskets. Instead, they have hairs on their hind legs which are built for this purpose! Typically, it’s the females that will land on you since they like to supplement their diet with salt and minerals by using their tongue.

The drone caste (more commonly known as the males) tend to exhibit much longer antennae than their female counterparts. Plus, they are usually thinner and showcase a gorgeous yellow colouring on their legs.

Sweat Bees (Halictidae) — Their Nesting Habits

Like all solitary bees, Sweat bees (Halictidae) prefer to nest completely on their own. However, since some types are eusocial, you can see an aggregate of nests relatively close to each other so they can share resources.

Typically, these guys will nest in the ground, but certain species will construct their nest in wood, similarly to the Carpenter bee

Those Sweat bee species which make their homes in the soil will usually choose a spot that has little to no vegetation. Why? It is so the females can easily excavate the earth and the chances of the nesting site being well-drained are higher.

Once the female has picked her perfect spot, she will start using her body to burrow down into the soil. The main tunnel will act as a drain (according to researchers) to stop moisture flooding the cells that the busy lady bee will create off it.

After she is done creating her cells, she deposits a bunch of pollen and nectar into each one for her larva (one per cell). The female then creates a glandular secretion which she uses to waterproof the cell and then lays her egg. 

Lastly, she will seal it off with some more of the glandular secretion so her larva stays safe and sound to grow into a healthy young Sweat bee (Halictidae).

This way of providing for her young is entirely different from progressive provisioning that honey bees take part in. Essentially, this is how humans feed their babies — continuously feeding as it grows. 

Can Sweat Bees Sting You?

As you now know, they are attracted to human’s skin because of the sweat that secretes continuously throughout the day. This would be fine, wouldn’t it? If that was all? Yes, yes it would! Unfortunately, though, the female Sweat bee can sting you. 

As the stinger breaks through your skin, it will inject venom into your bloodstream until you extract it. So, make sure you take it out as quickly as you possibly can!

Once your skin is free from the stinger, put some ice (or your much-loved bag of petit pous) on it to ensure you minimise the pain and swelling. Although, over the counter medications can help with this too, as well as reducing the itching.

Of course, make sure to seek emergency medical attention if any of these apply to your situation:

  • Numerous stings
  • Known allergy to bees
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Stings on the head
  • Stings on the neck
  • Stings in the mouth

Okay, so we know this probably scared you but they do not tend to be aggressive. Usually, it is only if they have been agitated into these defensive mechanisms. 

Do Sweat Bees Pollinate?

Sweat bees (Halictidae) aren’t just a summer annoyance, they play a huge part in the pollination process of a variety of plants. Although, they prefer different types of wildflowers, alfalfa, sunflowers and stone fruit crops. 

How to Attract Them to Your Garden

When trying to attract these bees — or any type of bee for that matter — never use pesticides or insecticides anywhere in your garden. 

Since these bees are active from April, all the way through to October, you need to ensure your garden blooms throughout this entire time. It’s important to remember that these guys are pollinators that will disappear if you can’t provide everything they need at the right time.

To accommodate them between April and October, try planting some of the following flowers:

  • Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
  • Spiderworts (Tradescantia spp)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)
  • Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
  • Asters (any species but try one of these: Aster amellus, frikartii, novae-angliae or novi-belgii)
  • Purple meadow-rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum)

Aside from the various flora and fauna that Sweat bees (Halictidae) forage and feast on, you need to provide areas of clear soil. This way, the females are bound to choose your ready-made spot for their excavations.

Please remember that we should be aiming to keep every single one of our different types of bee species safe (whether they are endangered or not), despite how annoying they might be to some. If we love them, they will only do great things for us in return.