What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

What’s that bee?
Hello buggers,
My parents have a whole mess of these little guys/gals in their front desert-scaped yard. The small hills of dirt covered with crushed granite now have some dirt exposed, with little burrows about 3/16ths of an inch in diameter all over. These “bees” fly like cutter bees in that they zip around hurriedly, pausing to hover here and there, while they try to find their burrow entrance. They often land and check out a burrow, somehow realize it isn’t theirs and resume the search. They aren’t cutter bees though, as they don’t look much like them, and didn’t have any noticeable leaves in tow, nor any in the burrow that we excavated. They evidently aren’t aggressive either since I was sitting inches away from this one, with a macro lens pointed at it for a good 5 minutes, while I waited for the little ADHD bugger to hold still long enough to get a shot off. If you could please help with identification and any suggestions on getting rid of them since they have become a nuisance due to the shear number of them… without simply slathering the colony with insecticide preferably. Thank you once again for your help,
Ryan Ingraham

Hi Ryan,
We are confused. You state that the bees are not aggressive yet you want to slather them with insecticide. These are native Mason Bees in the family Megachilidae, that according to BugGuide, includes Leaf-cutter Bees, Mason Bees and allies. Perhaps one of our readers can provide a genus or species. These native bees are important pollinators, and they should not be exterminated. We would suggest that if your parents cannot bring themselves to cohabitate, that they simply cover up the exposed soil with additional decomposed granite.

Hi, Daniel:
One minor correction:
The “mason bees” in the xeriscape garden are actually “plasterer bees” in the genus Colletes, family Colletidae. At least, that is what the insect imaged is. They often nest in dense aggregations, but each female maintains her own burrow. Their activity usually lasts only 3-5 weeks, and then they are gone. They do not feed their offspring progressively, like social bees, but provision each cell in the burrow, then close off the burrow and leave, job done. Colletes are also valuable pollinators, and there are fewer and fewer places for them to nest as we pave-over and plow-under ever more land with urban sprawl. Unless you physically grab one of these bees, or step on one in bare feet, you will not get stung.
Eric

Update: (05/22/2008)
Daniel,
Right, that’s why I said: “without simply slathering the colony with insecticide preferably.” But you would have me burry them alive? The point is, and should have been clear, that I don’t want to harm them, otherwise that picture might have been different and on the carnage page. I did mention sitting with a macro lens trying to snap a shot, what kind of bug killer does that? I love nature, and would rather spray the area with something harmless yet mildly offensive to the little bees so they’ll go find new homes. Thanks for the concern, but I’m not a swatter-carrying member of that blatantly abusive pack of simians you often hear from. Please let me know of any natural and effective way of driving them away, or if you know of a resource for that kind of information. My parents are trying to sell their house, and I’ve asked them to give me a chance to get rid of the bees for them without spraying them with insecticide.
Thank you,
Ryan Ingraham

Hi Ryan,
Thanks for setting us straight. We didn’t want you to bury the poor Plaster Bees alive. We just thought that the garden, as it is, seems so inviting to the bees. It was more of a long term solution, that if the Plaster Bees were nesting in exposed soil, covering the exposed soil would help in the future. We don’t have any other suggestions, sadly, since we would like to offer your parents a solution. The irony of the situation when it comes to people selling houses and other things is that they never know what the buyer really wants. I would hate to think that your parents might spend unnecessary dollars on an exterminator, only to find that the one interested buyer, a nature lover who might be willing to offer more than the asking price, might decide not to buy if there are no pollinating insects in the garden. We are sure you are aware that insecticide is not species specific, and butterflies and other creatures will also be affected. Also remember that Eric Eaton indicates that this activity should only last 3-5 weeks of the year and it is probably about to end.

Update: (06/03/2008)
Hi Daniel,
Thanks for the info. and advice. Update: The bee larvae are cozy in their burrows, and all the mama bees split after burying their offspring alive. We added some more gravel, careful not to destroy the burrows. No insecticide was used… and my parents got an offer the day after they listed the home. Karma? Maybe. Ironic that the bees in my mom’s front yard split when their child rearing duties were through, and now I’m grown with a wife and kids and my parents are moving out of state leaving me buried alive in the dirt of the Arizona desert? … and that I didn’t have to use any pesticide? Definitely.
Ryan Ingraham

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination
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