The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Sweat bees: Halictids

Sweat beeHalictid bees, also known as sweat bees, make up a large family of insects with over 2,000 species.  Although some are drab colored, the common species that visited our peach (Augochlora pura) was a brilliant, metallic green, which is typical of many other types of halictids as well.

Halictids get their common name from their tendency to lick salt off our sweaty skin, making them one of the better known classes of insects despite their small size.  They're also easily startled, and I get stung by sweat bees more than by any other insect, but the pain fades quickly and is a small price to pay for their pollination expertise.

Like bumblebees, halictids are buzz pollinators, which means they're better than honeybees at pollinating blueberries and tomatoes.  They are also generalist pollinators who are glad to visit any flower full of pollen and nectar.  The combination adds up to a very useful pollinator species that should definitely be encouraged in your garden.

The best way to build a healthy population of wild pollinators is to understand their nesting and foraging requirements and then provide them with good habitat.  Sweat bees nest in bare patches of soil or in wood, packing brood cells full of pollen and nectar then laying an egg on top.  When the egg hatches out, the larval sweat bee feeds itself with no help from its parents, then makes its way out of the nest to live as an adult.  Give them a patch of bare ground and a steady flow of flowers throughout the year and sweat bees will be industrious pollinators in your garden.

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This post is part of our Native Pollinators lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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