Bee-ing with Halictus, the Sweat Bee – #3 in the series

A knee injury for me (again!) is the perfect excuse for more bee-ing, less working in the garden.

Couple that with National Pollinator Week, and I’m feet up, ice-wrapped, coffee in hand and all a-buzz to share with you what I’ve seen.

After dinner at the picnic table last night (yay summer!), I spied this charmingly striped bee working over the yarrow blooms.

Meet your friendly neighborhood Halictus. Now, this has never happened to me and I’m not sure how I would react if it did, but these bees will lick the sweat from people’s skin and so, they’re known as sweat bees. Weird, huh!?

Also weirdly interesting, unlike most native bees that are solitary, Halictus are true social (or eusocial) bees like honey bees and bumble bees. Social bees have a queen and workers that live together in a nest. But sweat bees are unique in that every female worker retains their ovaries. If conditions are right, she can head off to start her own nest laying eggs for her own workers. That’s a pretty cool adaptation! It gives Halictus the ability to respond to varying weather or abundance of floral resources by expanding their populations.

How can you support these pollinating super stars?

*Plant a lot of flowers! Halictus are generalists (feed from many species) and are active over an extra long season. So, the more flowers in your garden throughout the seasons, the happier your local sweat bees will be. The yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in my garden is a big hit with the sweat bee as well as a lot of other pollinating visitors. Colored varieties like ‘Terracotta’ and ‘New Vintage Rose’ are fun, too. I like how yarrows will re-bloom if you cut them down after their first flush. Meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa) is another that can be treated this way. Meanwhile, long blooming plants like ‘Rozanne’ geranium are a boon for the lazy pollinator gardener – no need to deadhead this one!

*Leave some area of your yard bare – no mulch, no plants. Halictus and most other native bees are ground nesters, tunneling into hard, bare earth. Have you seen small holes in a neglected corner of your yard? Celebrate! You have native bee nests! In a small yard, it can be hard to set aside a bare patch. Expand your view of your garden to include the nearby alleys and neglected hellstrips. With a little attention and communication with neighbors, these public nooks of land can be protected for nesting bees.

photo credit: Andony Melathopoulos

*Provide shallow water. The mossy rocks on the edges of our boulder fountain are alive with thirsty bees all summer. A terra-cotta tray with pebbles and fresh water is another way to offer a drink. Even large-leaved plants that catch sprinkler water can be included in the pollinator garden for their puddling contributions. Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and annual nasturtiums have excellent water holding leaves. Even our native wood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) keeps water droplets adhered to their leaves as if they were made of velcro. Pass more time bee-ing and you might see the wonder of a proboscis drinking that droplet down right in your own garden.

This summer, whether you’re able-bodied or not, relax a bit more in your garden and spend time bee-ing. Watching the flying visitors is a wonderful way to de-stress and connect to nature.

And, if a little striped bee helps itself to a lick of your salty sweat, try to curb your reaction to swat it away! It’s recognizing you as part of the habitat. 😉

This blog is the third in my “not dumbed-down pollinator gardening series.” Click to read the first two here:

Not Dumbed-Down Tips for Your Pollinator Garden – #1 Lacy Phacelia

Stop and See the Bees – #2 in the not dumbed-down pollinator gardening series

What pollinators do you see in your garden? Comment below so we can all learn!

4 comments on “Bee-ing with Halictus, the Sweat Bee – #3 in the series”

  1. julie says:

    Hey-lick- this! Nice photo!
    My daughter showed me a neat bee friendly trick. I get bees and flys trapped in my greenhouse. Instead of trapping them with a jar and lid and sometimes pinching their poor little legs off in the process, she was just placing her finger next to them and allowing them to crawl on and take them out side. The bee mimicking flys really go for this, probably attracted to sweat like halictus. Then she showed me how if you put a drop of honey on your finger the bee will stay and lick it all up. Most likely exhausted from buzzing around all day, they need a little something to regain their strength. You can watch their cool tongues up close. They like a drop of water too. I am going to try this on poor drowning bees, which I love to save and they always look exhausted.

    1. Leslie Davis says:

      I love this tip, Julie! What a fun way to help AND get to see the tongues in action. I’m going to try it with a camera ready in the other hand.

  2. Alana Chau says:

    Oh no! Knee again! Here’s hoping for a quick recovery.

    1. Leslie Davis says:

      Thank you, Alana! I appreciate your well wishes. Luckily I have a capable 13 year old I can put to work in the field for me while I focus on design work this week!

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