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green-sweat-beeEvery now and again I catch a glimpse of a funny little bee. I see it here and there. Once hanging out on a Calendula flower outside my favorite store The Natural Grocer (has Boocha kombucha on tap and a chicken salad to die for) and another time on the windshield of my Vue. I have yet been able to get a photo of it. The funny little bee is being very uncooperative! How very rude!

I told the fireman, oh excuse me the Chief (the fireman was promoted to Battalion Fire Chief) about the silly little bee and he did not believe me and questioned my sanity, again (it’s an on going discussion we have lol)!

As some of you know I have recently become a beekeeper. I bought my bees from McFarline Apiaries in Vermont, figuring that since I’m in Massachusetts bees from Vermont will have a hardier constitution and the ability to withstand a harsh New England winter (and so far this has proved to be accurate). Currently there is one very active and thriving hive with plans to add a nuc this next spring.

The bees hang out in an organic community garden New Eden at The First Parish Church of NewburyThe church has Our Secret Garden, a pre-school that is associated with it.

Our Secret Garden Indoor/Outdoor Nursery and Preschool (OSG) is a nature-based center aimed at nurturing children of all abilities to care for themselves, each other and the earth in a quality educational program. OSG is committed to environmental stewardship, believing that every child has incalculable worth and can make a positive difference in the community and in the world.

I had the great pleasure of speaking with the kids about the duties of a beekeeper. We spoke about what I did, looked at my gear and made beecandy, which the kids will help feed to the girls for winter. We then walked quietly to the hive (well as quietly as 5 to 8 yo can be). The girls were flying in and out and doing what the foragers do, but the kids noticed that there were bees sitting near the entrance not flying. I explained that they were guard bees and they were protecting the hive. The pre-school has its own garden and the kids took great pleasure in showing me what they had planted and where they played. As I was walking around with one of the instructors some of the children came running over to say that they were playing beekeeper and guard bees and the beekeeper kept chasing the guard bees. These kids just kill me! Every time I think of it I giggle.


So back to the funny little bee. When one thinks of bees we think yellow and black as the color scheme. Although, and it might be a product of my imagination, I remember seeing black and white bees that we called king bees. I have not seen them for many many years, which leads me to think I might have imagined them! The funny little bee I’m talking about is green and shiny. When I first saw one I was sure that I really didn’t see it. It was a long time before I saw another one and this made me think that they could be solitary bees, if that is at all possible.

A sweat bee, insect family Halictidae. Photo credit: Alicia Alexander

A sweat bee, insect family Halictidae. Photo credit: Alicia Alexander

Well apparently it is possible and the funny little bee is one of them. They are called Common Eastern Sweat Bees. They’re mostly quite small, anywhere from one- to three-eighths of an inch in length, with some species only a few millimeters in length. Most sweatbee species look quite colorful, from a shiny green to a vivid blue color, but there are other species that are brown and even red. They’re all quite active during spring through midsummer, as they’re gathering pollen and food for their nests, which they commonly build as burrows in the ground. Some species of the Sweat Bee are active early Spring and Early Winter. These bees aren’t aggressive but the female sweat bee will sting if handled roughly. The males will bite or pinch with their mandibles that are similar to leaf cutter bees. Both are considered to be painless.

These funny little bees are quite fascinating, here are some interesting facts:

  • A Sweat Bee Gathering Pollen and Nectar from a Poppy

    A Sweat Bee Gathering Pollen and Nectar from a Poppy

    They take their common name from their affinity for human sweat.

  • Sweat bees are small (at least to us) and tend to measure between 3 and 10 millimeters in length.
  • They tend to be glossy black, but some have exoskeletons which are gorgeous shades of metallic gold, green, purple, or blue.
  • The social behavior of sweat bees runs the entire gamut of bee conduct: the University of Florida Department of Entomology Website states, “species can be solitary, communal, semi-social, or eusocial.”
  • Most species of sweat bees live together in a simple underground tunnel-hive where they act more like roommates than like city-states
  • Sweat bees mass-provision their larval offspring—which is to say they stick a mass of pollen inside a waterproof cell, place an egg on it, and seal then it off until a functional adult emerges (as opposed to honey bees which lovingly feed the larva as they develop).
  • Halictidae species are immensely important to flowering plants.  They are critical pollinators for many wildflowers, crops, and fruits.
  • Not all sweat bees are virtuous workers: some species are cleptoparasitic and lay their eggs on the pollen masses accumulated by another species of bee.
  • A handful of these little bees are outright parasites in the manner of the parasitoid wasps.

Source Citation

  • (MLA 7th Edition), Johnson, Bill. “Sweat bees.” Horticulture Magazine July-Aug. 2011: 12. General OneFile. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.
  • Wayne Ferrebee, Ferrebeekeeper Blog, Nov 10, 2011, Sweat Bees
  • Duke Farms Living Habitats, Bees
  • Texas A&M, Agrilife Extension, Alicia Alexander IPM Intern – July 23, 2015 Sweatbees
  • Bee Progress, March 16, 2009 – What is a Bee Nuc