What are these bees making nests in lawns in early spring?

Ground bee nests are usually in groups - image taken by Diane Stephens, Houston County Master Gardener
Ground bee nests are usually in groups – image taken by Diane Stephens, Houston County Master Gardener

Ground or Digger Bees Attack Lawns

The first sign of ground or digger bees in lawns may be strange little mounds of soil with a hole nearby. The ground bees will be flying over this area. Ground bees are solitary bees that dig and nest in the ground. These bees live one per hole but there may be many holes in an area creating ground bee communities. There are many types of ground bees that vary in color and range from one-half to three-quarter inch in length. Some types of solitary wasps live like this as well.

Female ground bees dig nests in the ground up to six or so inches deep in which to raise young. The bees pile earth around the sides of the hole. These bees can be very active in March and April. The female ground bee stocks the nest with pollen and nectar to feed the young bees. Some solitary wasps stock their nests with insects.

Ground bees typically cause little problem. The digging should not be enough to damage the lawn. The bees are not very aggressive and probably will not sting. You should be able to work and mow grass around them with few problems. People that are allergic to bee stings may want to be cautious when working around the bees.

Close up of ground bee nests - image taken by Diane Stephens, Houston County Master Gardener
Close up of ground bee nests – image taken by Diane Stephens, Houston County Master Gardener

We do not recommend chemical controls for ground bees or wasps. These bees can be beneficial – serving to pollinate plants or destroy harmful insects. They will probably only be around for four to six weeks and then disappear until next year.

If you must control them, use cultural controls.

  • Ground bees like dry soils. Water the soil when bees first become active. Apply one inch of water once a week if it does not rain.
  • Ground bees nest in dry areas where the grass is thin. Find and correct the problems making the turf thin. This may involve soil sampling, irrigation, soil aeration or other practices.
  • Find ways to thicken the turf in these areas to reduce ground bee problems. Know the needs of the turf grass and meet them!
  • In areas that will not grow grass, mulch the area.

If you must use a pesticide, watch during the day to see where the holes are located. After dark, dust these areas with carbaryl (sold under the name Sevin and other names) dust. A dust insecticide should cling to the bee’s body better than a spray. Keep people and pets out of the area while it is being treated.

The bees are not generally harmful and pesticides are toxic. The cure may be worse than the problem. Try to put up with the bees if you can. These bees may be difficult to control and may return year to year. If you have ongoing problems with them, follow all recommendations very carefully. See this site where I found much of this information http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/O&T/lawn/note100/note100.html

There is one large caution in connection with ground bees and wasps. Ground bees are not aggressive but can look like other bees and wasps that are very aggressive and harmful. Make absolutely certain that you are not dealing with a yellow jacket or bumble bee nest. Both of these insects can literally cover you with stings very quickly. They can also have extremely large nests in Georgia. If you ever get into trouble with these, run until you escape them. Running inside may help. Do not stop to swat, roll on the ground, etc.

Before you begin control of any stinging insect, make certain of your pest. This or other websites can help you identify the lawn invader http://aces.nmsu.edu/ces/plantclinic/documents/t-10-waspsandbees.pdf.

One difference between ground bees and other bees or wasps is that ground bees live by themselves and make many holes in the ground. Yellow jackets and bumble bees have many insects per hole. Use the following from Dr. Will Hudson, UGA Entomologist, as a guide for identification.

Many holes with one 1 bee per hole = solitary bees (like ground bees) that sting only as a last resort.

One hole, many bees = social bees (like yellow jackets and bumble bees). Keep away!  These are non-reproductive workers that will sacrifice themselves in defense of the nest.

For insects other than ground bees, you may want to hire a pest control company or a wildlife removal company. They should have the training and equipment to do the job properly.

Please share this information with others in the landscape industry. For more information:

Call your local Extension Agent at (800) ASK-UGA1 or locate your local Extension Office

Get updated on fire ant baiting

Get updated on fire ant baiting

Article written by Mike Merchant, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Entomologist, in his blog Insects in the City

Fire ants remain the most prevalent outdoor ant pest in most areas of the southern U.S.  Throughout the U.S. we estimate the annual cost of fire ant control at over $6 billion.  But the cost of this pest goes far beyond measurable dollars.  Fire ants reduce the recreational value of our parks and backyards, disrupt wildlife populations, and send thousands to emergency rooms each year from their painful stings.

So as we get ready to enter fire ant season, it may be a good time to bring yourself and your staff up to speed on fire ant control. Many people are surprised to learn that fire ants are not an especially difficult pest to manage, once the biology and control tools are understood.

One of the best places to learn about fire ant management is the eXtension fire ant website, a place where the best information about fire ant is assembled by Extension agencies throughout the South. This information was recently summarized and presented in an informative webinar by Dr. Fudd Graham, fire ant specialist with Auburn University.   Dr. Graham focuses on fire ant biology and use of baits for fire ant control.

It’s worth knowing something about how fire ant baits work because they are the most economical, ecologically friendly, and effective control methods for fire ants. The webinar will provide you or your technician with an hour of training that should pay for itself many times over.


Mike Merchant is an entomology specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension. He works with pest management professionals, school facilities managers, extension volunteers, researchers and other extension professionals. His areas of specialty center on research on insects affecting man including spiders, scorpions, fire ants, termites and others. His program also focuses on training school maintenance professionals in principles of integrated pest management (IPM). His goal is to make schools healthier, cleaner places to study and live.

Wasps and hornets looking for a place to call home!

This information is taken from the publication Management of Insect Pests in and Around the Home by Daniel R. Suiter, Brian T. Forschler, Lisa M. Ames and E. Richard Hoebeke.

Hornets (Vespidae: Vespa spp.)

European hornet Suiter-AmesThe European hornet, Vespa crabro, was accidentally introduced into North America about the middle of the 19th century. It is a large eusocial wasp with the wings reddish orange and the petiolate abdomen brown and yellow striped. There are no native hornets in the U.S.

Habits: European hornets build large, above-ground nests, usually in trees. Similar to yellow jackets and paper wasps, European hornets build a new nest each year. Each Fall all hornets die, with the exception of several queens, which overwinter. The following Spring these overwintered, mated queens initiate the construction of a new nest. European hornets are attracted to lights at night. They are not attracted to human foods and food wastes, as are yellow jackets, but they can damage fruits, such as apples, while the fruit is still on the tree.

Interventions: If European hornets are found around the house at night, because these wasps will forage after dark and are attracted to lights, examine and change the lighting regime. Do not attempt to remove or treat a nest; call a pest management professional to remove nests near areas of human habitation or activity. For more information see University of Georgia Extension circular #782, Stinging and Biting Pests, at caes.uga.edu/publications.

Might Be Confused With: cicada killers, yellow jackets.

Mud Daubers (Sphecidae and Crabronidae: many species)

Mud dauber tubes Suiter-AmesLong, slender, solitary wasps 1 to 1.5 inches, with long, slender waists. Commonly glossy black or blue, some species with yellow highlights.

Habits: Builds series of four- to six-inch long vertical mud tubes on walls in areas protected from rain and adverse weather. Commonly found under eaves, decks, etc. Each tube comprised of individual cells housing a single larva and spider prey that wasp larvae feed on.

Interventions: Knock down dry mud nests with a broom and wash mud from wall with soap and water. For more information see University of Georgia Extension circular #782, Stinging and Biting Pests, at www.caes.uga.edu/publications.

Might Be Confused With: paper wasps, potter wasps.

Paper wasps (Vespidae: Polistes spp.)

Paper wasp 2 Suiter-AmesPaper wasp 2 Suiter-AmesPaper wasp Suiter-AmesLarge (1 inch), aggressive wasps when at their nest. Various species, but all build paper-like, multi-celled, inverted umbrella nests under rain- and wind-protected eaves where wasps can enter and exit easily.

Habits: Each Fall all wasps die, with the exception of several queens, which overwinter in an inactive form in a well-protected, secluded environment such as under and in fallen logs and other ground debris. The following Spring, queens initiate and build a small paper nest where they lay eggs. Paper wasps build a new nest each year. Colonies grow and reach peak size in the Fall, at which time the cycle repeats. Like other social bees and wasps, paper wasps are aggressive when protecting their nest, and may inflict a painful sting in its defense. Adult wasps are excellent predators in vegetable gardens, and are more docile when not protecting their nest.

Interventions: If nests are out of the way, leave wasps alone as they are highly beneficial predators. If desired, spray nest and wasps directly with an aerosol jet spray, or early in the year, before the nest contains too many adult wasps consider knocking down the nest with a long stick but be prepared – and able – to quickly flee the area as the nest is dislodged. Make certain no one in the area is allergic to wasp venom (stings). For more information see University of Georgia Extension circular #782, Stinging and Biting Pests, at www.caes.uga.edu/publications.

Might Be Confused With: mud daubers.

Potter wasps (Vespidae, but sometimes recognized as Eumenidae: many species)

Potter wasp and nest Suiter-AmesAlso referred to as mason wasps. Common species dark blue or black with yellow or white highlights on abdomen and/or thorax. Solitary. Common species 3/4 to 1inch. Strongly sclerotized.

Habits: This wasp builds characteristic, oval-shaped (1/2 to 5/8 inch diameter) nests that appear pot-like with a knob-like handle. Pots are ornate and constructed of mud, as if built by a mason.

Interventions: Knock down ‘mud pot’ nests with a broom and wash mud from wall with soap and water.

Might Be Confused With: mud daubers.

For more information see these UGA publications:

Management of Pest Insects in and Around the Home

Stinging and Biting Pests

What type of spider is this and what is the risk?

Brown widow spiders – hiding in a log near you

Stephanie Schupska, news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office

A brown widow spider will usually hide when it senses danger. In fact, a person is more likely to be hit by lightning than be bitten by a brown or black widow spider. Image credit: Nancy Hinkle.
A brown widow spider will usually hide when it senses danger. In fact, a person is more likely to be hit by lightning than be bitten by a brown or black widow spider. Image credit: Nancy Hinkle.
Glove up before clearing brush, cleaning out the garage or pulling logs off the woodpile this winter. A brown widow spider or her more commonly known sister, the black widow, may be hiding in the shadows.

The brown widow’s camouflage – an orange hourglass on a brown body – makes her hard to see. That’s good for her but bad for the person who sticks a hand too close to her web.

Avoids people

The brown widow usually tries to stay away from people, said Whitney Boozer, an entomology graduate student with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“If they’re disturbed, they drop off the web, curl up in a ball or retreat,” Boozer said.

They can’t retreat when they’re pressed up against someone’s skin, though. A brown widow gets in this situation when someone wraps a hand around her while she’s holed up some place.

Wear long sleeves and gloves

Gloves and long sleeves will protect you “if you’re working in areas where brown widow spiders are commonly found,” Boozer said. Outside, brown widows prefer woodpiles, tires, empty containers and eaves. Indoors, the spider prefers protected places like under furniture and in shoes.

Shake clothes and check shoes before putting them on if they are left outside or in a garage.

Bites by brown widows cause severe reactions in 5 percent of people who are bitten. The young and old are especially vulnerable. With medical intervention, bites are almost never fatal.

The only scientific data collected on deaths attributed to widow spiders was taken between 1950 and 1959. During that time, 63 people died from the spiders’ bites, said Nancy Hinkle, a CAES entomologist.

Indoor plumbing lowered bite numbers

“Doubtless those numbers are much lower now that we have indoor plumbing because most widow bites occurred in privies,” she said.

According to Boozer, the brown widow’s venom is more toxic than that of her black cousin, but she injects less venom when she bites.

“In my whole life, I have known only one person bitten by a widow spider, and actually I didn’t know him, he just called my office,” Hinkle said. “On the other hand, I have personally known three people who were struck by lightning.”

She estimates that there are fewer than seven people killed each year by widow spiders. More than 1,000 people each year are struck by lightning.

A bad reputation

“So your chance of being killed by a widow spider bite — even without treatment — is over 100 times less than your chance of being struck by lightning,” Hinkle said.

Despite the odds, brown widows still aren’t spiders most people want wandering around in their homes. If you do see one, don’t panic. Boozer suggests taking it outside or vacuuming it up.

“Even outside, you’re allowed to kill widow spiders,” Hinkle said, who usually cringes when the conversation turns to smashing spiders.

Crush the egg sack, too, Boozer said. A brown widow’s egg sack is sphere shaped with spindly spikes of webbing sticking up all over it.

If desperation leads to a chemical attack, it’s best to spray spiders directly, Boozer said. Spraying a home’s perimeter may prevent spiders from entering it, but it won’t kill the ones already there. Brown widow spiders avoid places that have been sprayed.

New Graphic Helps Consumers Make Informed Choices About Insect Repellents

Posted July 17, 2014 on the IPM in the South blog from the Southern Region IPM Center

The EPA unveiled a new graphic that will be available to appear on insect repellent product labels. The graphic will show consumers how many hours a product will repel mosquitoes and ticks when used as directed.

EPA Repellency label

The EPA’s new graphic will do for bug repellents what SPF labeling did for sunscreens. This new graphic will help parents, hikers and the general public better protect themselves and their families from serious health threats caused by mosquitoes and ticks that carry debilitating diseases. Incidence of these diseases is on the rise. The CDC estimates that there are nearly 300,000 cases of Lyme disease in the United States each year. Effective insect repellents can protect against serious mosquito- and tick-borne diseases.

The EPA is accepting applications from manufacturers that wish to add the graphic to their repellent product labels. The public could see the graphic on products early next year.

Recognize this large wasp found in landscapes now?

Cicada Killer Wasps

Nancy Hinkle, UGA Extension Entomologist

Cicada killer - Jessica Lawrence, NC State Entomology Department, Bugwood.org
Cicada killer – Jessica Lawrence, NC State Entomology Department, Bugwood.org

The cicada killer wasp is the largest wasp in Georgia. The cicada killer wasp is almost two inches long. Although intimidating in appearance, these wasps are not something we humans have to worry about. Cicadas, on the other hand, should be very afraid. Cicada killer wasp adults feed on nectar but use paralyzed cicadas to feed their young.

Female cicada killers are hard to provoke to sting.  The female uses her stinger to paralyze her prey (cicadas) rather than in self defense. The female’s attention is focused on providing food for her babies, so she poses little threat to humans.

Cicada killers prefer to nest in sandy open sunlit areas.  As the female digs, she kicks out soil that forms a semicircle around the burrow opening. She burrows six to ten inches into the ground, prepares a chamber, catches a cicada to fill the chamber, lays an egg on the cicada, and seals the chamber.  She may do this over a dozen times in one burrow.

Cicada killer - Ronald F. Billings, Texas Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Cicada killer – Ronald F. Billings, Texas Forest Service, Bugwood.org

When a female finds a cicada, she paralyzes it with her stinger, straddles it, and attempts to fly with it to her burrow.  Because the cicada typically weighs more than she does, these flights are usually hops, with more dragging than gliding.

The egg hatches in a few days and the larva feeds on the paralyzed cicada until nothing is left but a shell. Then the wasp larva pupates within the burrow, remaining there until the next spring.

Males cannot sting; their only defense is intimidation.  They patrol the nesting area, trying to divert attention away from the female, allowing her to provision her nest with cicadas.  Meanwhile the male is using threatening tactics to distract potential predators. He may even dive bomb perceived threats.  Since the males do not have stingers, they are completely harmless.  They must rely on bluff, bluster, and bravado to protect their families.

Because cicada egg laying can be damaging to trees and shrubs, cicada killer wasps are very beneficial, providing free biological control.  However, homeowners who do not want these wasps around can modify their lawn to be unappealing.  A thick healthy turf with no bare spots will exclude cicada killer wasps. If turf is thin in nesting areas, identify turf problems that make the turf weak and correct them.

Cicada killer wasps will be active for only a few weeks and will be gone by mid-August in most of Georgia. If someone is bothered by these wasps, late July and early August would be a good time to take their vacation.

For more on cicada killer wasps, see these articles:

Giant wasps not after humans

Killer wasps swarm in August

CT Scanning Shows how Fire Ants Interlock to Form Floating Rafts

From Entomology Today

Fire Ants image by Novak and Hu and taken from Entomology Today article
Fire Ants image by Novak and Hu and taken from Entomology Today article

When water levels rise, red fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) stream from their nests and rapidly grip onto their nearest neighbors in order to form rafts to carry them to safety. Each individual ant is denser than water and is in danger of sinking. However, the ants somehow manage to stay afloat, and they don’t just draw the line at constructing rafts — they routinely form bivouacs, assemble towers, and even coalesce into droplets when swished in a cup.

“You can consider them as both a fluid and a solid,” said David Hu from the Georgia Institute of Technology, who teamed up with Paul Foster and Nathan Mlot to investigate how balls of living fire ants self-assemble.

Read the entire article at Entomology Today

Do you recognize this nest?

Pipe Organ Mud dauber Nest, Wikipedia, User: Pollinator
Pipe Organ Mud dauber Nest, Wikipedia, User: Pollinator

This is a mud-dauber wasp nest

Info taken from the UGA publication Stinging and Biting Pests

Pipe organ mud daubers are elongated, slender and usually shiny-black wasps that vary in length from about a half inch to an inch or more. These wasps make their mud nests with the cells arranged in the form of long tubes, hence the common “pipe organ” name.

Individual wasps make a buzzing sound as they shape mud into a nest and provision it with spiders for their larvae to feed upon during development. The female wasp stings and paralyzes the spider and then lays an egg on it and seals it in the mud tube. The nests are often in protected but open areas under the roof eaves of buildings or sheds. Mud daubers rarely sting and are generally considered beneficial in reducing spider populations.

Pipe Organ mud-dauber — Johnny N. Dell, Bugwood.org
Pipe Organ mud-dauber — Johnny N. Dell, Bugwood.org

Learn about many more of these type pests in the UGA publication Stinging and Biting Pests

Brown Recluse Spider isn’t Typically a Southerner

Sharon Dowdy, News Editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

A University of Georgia researcher says brown recluse spiders in Georgia are being wrongly blamed for wounds they don’t cause.

“Most of the state of Georgia doesn’t even have brown recluse spiders,” said Nancy Hinkle, an entomologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “If the spiders in the state caused all the wounds that are reported as brown recluse bites, they would be some very busy spiders.”

The Brown Recluse is not a Southerner

From 2001 to 2007, Hinkle tracked verified findings of brown recluse spiders in Georgia. The study was prompted by Hinkle’s arrival from California.

Brown Recluse Spider isn’t Typically a Southerner
Brown recluse, Lisa Ames, UGA, Bugwood.org

“When I first came to Georgia, I heard several people say they knew someone who’d seen or been seriously wounded by a recluse,” she said. “I found that odd since the recluse is a Midwesterner, not a Southerner.”

The brown recluse is mostly brown but has a darker, violin-shaped design where its legs attach. With its legs extended, it’s only about the size of a quarter.

Hinkle has received hundreds of spider samples from Georgians all across the state. Rick Vetter from the University of California at Riverside identifies the samples. He is the world’s expert on brown recluse spiders.

Only Two out of Twenty-five are Recluse Spiders

Lisa Ames with the UGA CAES Homeowner Insect and Weed Diagnostic Laboratory in Griffin also collects spider samples submitted by homeowners and pest control companies. In 2003, 2004 and 2005 she received an average of 25 samples each year. Only two samples annually were recluses.

Through 2007, the UGA scientists had collected only 14 verified brown recluse spiders. And they had confirmed the spider in just 26 of Georgia’s 159 counties, mostly in the northwest.

“Another reason for doing this study is to help the medical community rule out brown recluse bites from portions of the state that don’t have the spiders,” Hinkle said. “A diagnosis of a brown recluse bite in Savannah is highly questionable.”

Most Likely not Spider Bites

Hinkle hopes the study will educate Georgia’s medical community and reduce the number of erroneous recluse bite cases. A mark on the skin that looks like a spider bite could be something much more serious.

She believes many assumed brown recluse bites could be methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. MRSA is a type of staph infection that’s resistant to antibiotics like penicillin, amoxicillin and oxacillin. MRSA causes mild skin infections which result in pimples or boils. But it can also cause more serious skin lesions or infect surgical wounds.

MRSA and Brown Recluse Wounds can Look Similar

“Over the past five to 10 years, the number of MRSA cases has exploded,” Hinkle said. A MRSA infection can look like a brown recluse wound.

A brown recluse spider’s bite often isn’t the painful part of the experience. The spider’s venom destroys the tissue at the bite site. Several hours later, a blister-like sore appears and grows. It can become as small as a pin to 8 inches across.

Almost all brown recluse bites heal nicely without medical intervention, Vetter said. And in spite of all the horror stories, only 3 percent require skin grafts.

Incorrectly diagnosing MRSA as a spider bite, and vice versa, can result in a patient getting the wrong therapy, Hinkle said. “The required treatment for a brown recluse bite is totally different from the treatment needed for MRSA,” she said. “Common antibiotics don’t touch MRSA. And you obviously wouldn’t need to spray insecticides when you aren’t dealing with a spider problem.”

Peaceful Co-exsisters

Brown recluse spiders aren’t vicious and are not looking to bite people, Vetter said. A Kansas family collected more than 2,000 brown recluses from their home in six months. “They’ve been living there for eight years and still have shown no evidence of a single bite,” he said. “People tend to overreact and believe the worst.”

For more information:

Why You Need Not Fear the Poor, Misunderstood Brown Recluse Spider

How to identify and mis-identify a brown recluse spider

UGA researcher studies fire ant genetics to better understand ant’s success

A newly-hired University of Georgia entomologist hopes to develop genetic resources to understand fire ant success in the southeastern United States. Ultimately, this research could lead to new methods to reduce the number of fire ants inflicting pain on humans and taking over lawns and pastures across Georgia.

“I’m searching for methods to knock down specific genes in the fire ant. The ability to perturb gene function can help us better understand the basis of traits related to fire ant social structure and population density,” said Brendan Hunt, an entomologist in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the newest faculty member of the Griffin campus.

Knowing more about fire ant genetics could lead to new control applications, he said.

Hunt earned a doctorate at Georgia Tech where he studied fire ant genetics and molecular evolution of social insects. He was also involved with the sequencing of the fire ant genome.

He is also interested in how environmental factors affect animal development. Hunt says a “model example” of the environment’s influence on development can be found in honeybees and fire ants.

“A female honeybee or fire ant egg can develop either into a queen or a worker and based on nutritional and feeding differences during their development,” he said. “A queen actively produces and lays eggs for a long time and lives for a long time while a worker is basically sterile.”

To build his research program at UGA, Hunt is collecting fire ants, an easy task as he’s found plenty living outside his office. “They are everywhere on this campus, which is great for me. One of the reasons fire ants are so successful is that they love mowed lawns, meadows and farmland,” Hunt said. In addition to studying fire ants, Hunt teaches undergraduate classes on the UGA Griffin campus.

For information on how to control fire ants in Georgia, see the UGA CAES publication “Managing Imported Fire Ants in Urban Areas” at www.caes.uga.edu/publications.