Sweat Bee: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

Sweat bees, belonging to the family Halictidae, are fascinating creatures that play a crucial role in pollination. You might be surprised to learn that these small, often brightly colored insects are found throughout North America, with some species sporting metallic greens and blues. They display a wide range of social behaviors, making them diverse and interesting subjects to study.

As you explore the world of sweat bees, you’ll discover their unique ability to collect pollen from flowers using a process called “buzz pollination” or sonication. While feeding on nectar throughout the growing season, they also might camp out near aphid colonies to feed on honeydew, an aphid by-product. You’ll find these bees to be non-aggressive and, in some cases, attracted to human perspiration, hence their nickname, “sweat bees”.

In this article, you’ll learn more about sweat bees, their diverse characteristics, and the important role they play in our ecosystems. So let’s uncover the fascinating facts and features of these tiny pollinators, and get to know everything there is about the Halictidae family.

What Are Sweat Bees?

Sweat bees belong to the Halictidae family and are small but vital pollinators. These bees typically have a metallic appearance, with colors ranging from green, brown, to even blue.

First of all, you should know that sweat bees are called that because they are attracted to human perspiration. However, they mainly feed on nectar from flowers while collecting pollen, which plays a crucial role in plant reproduction. Sometimes they can also be found near aphid colonies feeding on honeydew, an aphid by-product.

Sweat bees are generally harmless and not as aggressive as other bees. Their size varies from small to medium, about ¼ to ½ inch. One fascinating characteristic is that many species have a striking metallic green or black coloration on their head and thorax.

These bees exhibit diverse social behavior, from solitary to semi-social. Depending on the species, their offspring might have different levels of interaction within their small colonies.

In summary, sweat bees are an essential part of the ecosystem as efficient pollinators. They come in various colors and sizes and don’t pose a significant threat to humans. When you encounter these small metallic creatures, remember that they help maintain the balance in nature and play a crucial role in pollination.

Appearance and Behavior

Physical Characteristics

Sweat bees are small and colorful insects. Some of them, like the Agapostemon, have metallic bodies, while others, like the Lasioglossum, have black or brown shades. Their size varies between 3 and 10 millimeters.

These bees have distinct features:

  • Short antennae
  • Long tongues for nectar collection
  • Two sets of wings

Behavioral Traits

Sweat bees exhibit a variety of behaviors depending on their species. One common trait among them is their affinity towards sweat. They are eusocial creatures, meaning they live in colonies with hierarchical structures. For example:

  • Queen bees: fertile females that lay eggs and control the colony
  • Worker bees: infertile females that forage for food and take care of the young
  • Males: only responsible for mating with the queen

When comparing two species of sweat bees:

Trait Agapostemon Lasioglossum
Nesting Ground-nesting Ground-nesting
Colony Large colonies Small to medium-sized colonies
Color Metallic green or blue Black or brown

In conclusion, sweat bees have unique physical characteristics and show diverse social behavior. Their appearance and habits vary depending on the species, but they all play an important role in pollination due to their interaction with flowers and plants. Remember to treat them with care if you come across them in your environment.

Diet and Habitat

Diet

Sweat bees have a unique diet that consists mainly of nectar and pollen. These tiny bees are often found hovering around flowers, feeding on the nectar and collecting pollen in the process. Interestingly, they also have a taste for human sweat. In fact, this is where their name comes from. Don’t worry, they’re mostly harmless and it’s just their way of getting essential minerals they need to survive.

*Nectar: Provides energy
*Pollen: Source of protein
*Human sweat: Additional minerals

Habitat

Sweat bees are adaptable and can be found in various habitats. They are attracted to plants and flowers for their food sources. You’ll often see them in gardens, meadows, and forests.

When it comes to nesting, sweat bees prefer to build their homes in bare soil or rotting wood. These locations provide the necessary conditions for them to lay their eggs and raise their young. Some example nesting environments are:

  • Garden soil
  • Wood piles
  • Abandoned tree trunks

Where do sweat bees live: Although they can be found in various parts of the world, sweat bees are especially common in North America. They thrive in both rural and urban landscapes, so keep an eye out for these tiny pollinators the next time you’re enjoying the outdoors.

Sweat Bees and Humans

Sweat Bees in Gardens

Sweat bees can be beneficial in your garden as they play a role in pollination. They are often found on flowers, feeding on nectar throughout the growing season. For example, the green metallic sweat bee (Agapostemon virescens) is known to love gardens, particularly in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States 1. By having sweat bees in your garden, you may notice an increase in the growth and production of your plants.

Sweat Bees as Pests

In some cases, sweat bees can become a nuisance for humans. Since they are attracted to skin sweat, they may land on you while you are outdoors. However, they usually do not sting unless they feel threatened. An infestation of sweat bees around your home might occur if they find suitable nesting sites nearby.

Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • They are attracted to skin sweat.
  • Sweat bees typically do not sting unless provoked.
  • An infestation may occur near nesting sites.

To prevent or control sweat bee infestations around your home, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Remove potential nesting sites, such as piles of wood, bricks, or stones.
  2. Maintain a clean and well-kept garden, which can help deter sweat bees from establishing nests.
  3. If necessary, contact a professional pest control company, like Orkin, for assistance.

In conclusion, sweat bees can be both beneficial and bothersome to humans. They play a valuable role in pollination, which is beneficial for your garden. On the other hand, they can become pests by being attracted to your skin sweat. Knowing how to manage and prevent infestations can help maintain a healthy balance between sweat bees and humans.

Understanding Sweat Bee Stings

Sting Severity

Sweat bee stings are usually not very severe, as these insects are not very aggressive. However, some people can develop an allergic reaction due to their venom. The severity of a sting can range from mild to severe depending on your body’s reaction.

For example:

  • Mild reaction: redness, swelling, and itching at the sting site
  • Severe reaction (rare): difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, and swollen face

Treatment

If you’re stung by a sweat bee, it’s essential to treat the sting as quickly as possible. Here’s a step-by-step process:

  1. Remove the stinger by scraping it out with a blunt-edged object like a credit card.

  2. Clean the sting area with soap and water to prevent infection.

  3. Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling and numb the area.

In case of a mild reaction, you can treat it using over-the-counter remedies:

  • Pain reliever: Take a pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to ease discomfort.
  • Baking soda: Make a paste with baking soda and water, then apply it to the sting area to help reduce itching.
  • Vinegar: You can also apply a few drops of vinegar to the sting site, as it can neutralize the venom and reduce pain.
  • Antihistamine: An oral antihistamine can help in treating itchiness and swelling.

For mild skin reactions, consider using:

  • Hydrocortisone: Apply a hydrocortisone cream on the sting area to reduce redness and swelling.

If you experience a severe allergic reaction, seek immediate medical attention. Note that, immunotherapy can be an effective long-term treatment for those with insect venom allergies.

Remember to always consult a healthcare professional for advice on treating bee or wasp stings, especially if you’ve had an allergic reaction before. Keep in mind that these steps are only guidelines for dealing with sweat bee stings and shouldn’t replace medical advice.

Dealing with Sweat Bees

Dealing with an Infestation

If you have a sweat bee infestation in your yard, it’s essential to take action to prevent them from creating more colonies and causing harm. Some steps you can take include:

  • Reducing moisture: Sweat bees are more likely to be active on hot days and attracted to moist environments. Ensure proper drainage in your yard and remove any standing water sources to deter sweat bees.
  • Managing flowers: Sweat bees feed on nectar from flowers, so limit the number of flowers in your yard, or plant unattractive varieties for sweat bees.

Prevention Measures

To prevent sweat bee infestations from occurring, implement the following measures:

  • Regular yard maintenance: Keep your lawn trimmed and clear away any debris or loose soil that could provide nesting grounds for sweat bees.
  • Seal potential nesting sites: Inspect the exterior of your home for small holes and crevices where sweat bees could build their nests. Seal off these areas with caulk or other materials.

If you get stung by a sweat bee, here’s what you can do:

  1. Remove the stinger: Gently scrape the stinger away from your skin with a fingernail or a credit card, avoiding the use of tweezers, as they may squeeze more venom into your skin.
  2. Clean the area: Wash the sting site with soap and water to help reduce the risk of infection.
  3. Apply ice: Apply a cold pack or ice wrapped in a cloth to the sting site to minimize swelling and numb the pain.

If you experience a severe allergic reaction to a sweat bee sting, such as difficulty breathing, hives, or swelling of the face, lips, or tongue, you should seek immediate medical attention and use an EpiPen, if available.

By following these control, prevention, and treatment measures, you can effectively deal with sweat bees and keep them at bay in your yard.

Comparing Sweat Bees to Other Bees

When it comes to bees, there are several types that you may encounter, including sweat bees, honey bees, and bumblebees. Each of these bees has unique characteristics that set them apart. In this section, we’ll explore some of their key differences.

Sweat bees, belonging to the Halictidae family, are small to medium-sized insects with a length of ¼-½ inch. They often have a metallic green or black coloration and are attracted to perspiration, hence their name1. Unlike these, honey bees and bumblebees are larger and typically found in shades of black and yellow2.

Here’s a brief comparison table to help you understand their main differences:

Feature Sweat Bees1 Honey Bees2 Bumblebees2
Body length ¼-½ inch ½-⅝ inch ½-1 inch
Color Bright metallic green or black Black and yellow Black and yellow, sometimes orange
Social behavior Solitary bees but some display social behavior Highly social bees Social bees
Nest location Ground, in silt loam soil3 In cavities, like tree hollows4 Ground or cavities
Agressive/Stinging Rarely stinging, less aggressive Can sting, more defensive Can sting, less aggressive

Sweat bees are solitary but may display some social behavior1, while both honey bees and bumblebees are social and live in colonies2. Honey bee colonies tend to be larger than bumblebee colonies, making them more efficient at pollination. Bumblebees, however, are better suited for cold temperatures, allowing them to pollinate plants in cooler climates2.

It’s also worth noting that sweat bees are less aggressive than honey bees and bumblebees1. You are less likely to be stung by a sweat bee, whereas honey bees are more defensive and likely to sting when threatened2. Bumblebees can sting as well but are generally less aggressive compared to honey bees2.

In summary, sweat bees, honey bees, and bumblebees are all important pollinators with unique characteristics. Keep in mind their differences when observing them in the wild or considering which ones to attract to your garden.

Footnotes

  1. this green metallic sweat bee loves your garden 2 3 4 5

  2. Honey Bees and Bumble Bees 2 3 4 5 6 7

  3. Identifying Bees and Wasps

  4. Native Bees

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Orchid Bee

 

Can you help me identify
I live in south Florida. I see this feeding at the flowers in our herb garden … basil
Pete

Hi Pete,
This is a Green Orchid Bee, Euglossa viridissima. This is a tropical genus but the Green Orchid Bee is established in Florida and has also been reported in Texas according to BugGuide.Your photo is quite stunning.

Letter 2 – Female Sweat Bee

 

Lovely Green Bug
Hello BugMan! This lovely greenie was perched on an azalea flower recently in my yard in Gainesville, Florida. I’m guessing it’s either a wasp or a hornet but have not found a photo quite like it. I was lucky to get these photo’s because a few other’s I’ve seen since like it were much too fast and not staying still as long as this one did. If you could be so kind as to tell me exactly what it is I’d appreciate it. HOPE you enjoy the photo’s as much as I have! Thank you in advance!
Mitzy Hileman

Hi Mitzy,
Originally we misidentifies this as a Green Orchid Bee, but Eric Eaton quickly corrected us. Here is his comment: “Also, the green orchid bee is actually a female sweat bee in the genus Agapostemon. Euglossa are much larger, without the coarse texture on the head and thorax (so they look very shiny).”

Letter 3 – Bug of the Month October 2018: Striped Sweat Bee

 

Subject:  Sweat Bee?
Geographic location of the bug:  Silverdale, WA
Date: 09/28/2018
Time: 04:28 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I’m not sure if this is a sweat bee (possibly Agapostemon splendens) or some type of Flower loving or Syrphid fly.
It was roughly 1/3 inch in length, give or take a few millimeters.
I’m leaning more towards A. splendens, but to be honest, arachnids and mantises are more my forte.
How you want your letter signed:  Bug aficionado

Striped Sweat Bee

Dear Bug aficionado,
This is definitely a Metallic Sweat Bee in the family Halictidae, and we believe you have the genus
Agapostemon correct as well, however, the species Agapostemon splendens is not found in the Pacific Northwest based on BugGuide data.  Members of the genus Agapostemon are known as the Striped Sweat Bees because, according to BugGuide:  “Males are easier to ID because they have strongly black-and-yellow striped abdomen.”  According to Insect Identification for the Casual Observer:  “There are over a dozen species of Agapostemon Sweat Bees. Males are easier to identity than females because of their distinct coloring. The head and thorax of males are a metallic green, but its abdomen is comprised of the black and yellow bands typically seen in the bee family. Females of many species are mostly green all over. Some species are very social and share nests, while others are more solitary in nature.
Nests are burrows dug into dirt or banks. Pollen grains are collected and placed in each egg’s cell to provide food for the expected larva. For this reason, most sightings of adults occur around in or in gardens and meadows laden with blooms. Spring and summer are peak times of year for activity.
Adults drink flower nectar and eat pollen, and are not aggressive. They will sting in self-defense, however, if they are hit or almost crushed.
Agapostemon Sweat Bees sometimes get close to, or touch parts of, the body that are perspiring. They seem to enjoy drinking the salty liquid off of our skin. Some are so small and lightweight, they are able to do so without the person even realizing it!”  We are making your submission our Bug of the Month for October 2018.

Striped Sweat Bee

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

2 thoughts on “Sweat Bee: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

  1. I first found Sweat Bees in my Birdbath on extemely hot days of summer. Some were drinking the water, others had drowned. They were soon crawling up my hand and arm. They seemed extremely social and calm. I wondered where they came from. After a time I followed them to see if I could find out. I DID! I found them crawling into one corner of my pool spa. There are many of them crawling in and out constantly. Apparently they are using my spa as their nesting site. Should I worry about this? In my area there is a guy who gives live removal. What do you suggest. I find them very interesting, and they do not bother us. I live in the Coachella Valley in California.

    Reply

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