Year of the Pollinator Series – May: Sweat Bee

Presenting: Awbury’s 2018 series on pollinators– from wasps to wind! 

Monthly articles will correspond with our programming and our “Pollinators FOUND at Awbury Arboretum” art show and scavenger hunt.

Articles written by La Salle student and Awbury intern Dan Sardaro.

May 2018 – SWEAT BEE

It’s May! While this month means a season of full bloom, it also means a new pollinator. We turn this month’s spotlight back on the bees, specifically the sweat bee, a small species of bee from the Halictidae family. Karen Singer captures the tiny creature harvesting pollen above the delicate bloom of Fleabane flower.

Green Sweat Bee

Green Sweat Bee

Sweat Bee on a Dandelion

Sweat Bee on a Dandelion

Sweat bees are quite abundant in our environment, second in total population only to the honey bee, and can be found worldwide, mostly in temperate climates. Their strange name derives from their tendency to lick salt – via sweat – off humans and animals. Besides that quirky fact, possibly the most unique characteristic about sweat bees is the incredible diversity of their appearance, function, and behavior. Sweat bees are a slender bee in most cases, but can also come in many different shades, varying from a dull black to a metallic green, purple, or blue. Some can be a mix of a few colors and patterns, such as the bi-colored agapostemon male. Resembling a tiny jewel when in the sun, the critter has a gleaming green head and thorax, with a black and yellow striped abdomen. In addition to the diverse appearance, some variations of sweat bee (there are 44 species within the genus) vary in how they get pollen – females collect it on the tibia and femur of their hind legs, while some parasitic species do not carry pollen at all. And in terms of behavior, sweat bees can range drastically. Most sweat bees nest underground, but depending on the sweat bee species, their social life can range from communal to solitary to anything in between.

Sweat Bee tile - Karen Singer

Sweat Bee tile – of the FOUND exhibit by Karen Singer Tileworks

In terms of specialization, these bees are the epitome of “team players.” They truly have never met a flower they didn’t like, and some of the most popular types of plants that sweat bees visit are crops we eat, including squash, legumes, sunflowers, watermelons, apples, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes and peppers to name but a few. They also make their rounds to natural flora and are an essential part of their health and reproduction. In other words, sweat bees aren’t picky!

Help encourage these non-aggressive bees to pollinate your garden by planting native wildflowers and providing nesting areas (patches of bare soil for them to burrow in). Minimal tillage and the limited use of pesticides will also help the sweat bee’s habitat.

Sources Used:

Buckley, Katie, et al. “Sweat Bees, Halictid Bees.” Featured Creatures, University of Florida, Aug. 2011, entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/bees/halictid_bees.htm.

Sharp, Paula and Ross Eatman, “[Page Title]”, Guide to Wild Bees of New York State (2014-2017). Sharp-Eatman Nature Photography. August 23, 2014. Web. [day/month/year guide accessed] <>

Hotz, Robert Lee. “Urban Buzz: A New Bee That Sips Sweat.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 28 Apr. 2012, www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304356604577341683875011896.