Earth bees - little helpers in danger

Earth bees - little helpers in danger

the essentials in brief

  • Earth bees or sand bees are bees that live in the ground
  • Earth bees should not be fought because they are useful and - sadly - increasingly rare
  • Sand bees can be carefully driven away by permanently putting your burrow in the shade and / or slightly moistening the entrances

What are earth bees?

Ground bees are called earth bees. They represent the genus of sand bees (Andrena) and are represented worldwide with more than 1,500 species. About 150 sand bees are native to Central Europe, of which 116 species have been observed in Germany.

also read

  • The difference between earth wasps and earth bees
  • A colony of bees in a flower pot
  • Longhorn beetle - danger in the attic

What to do with sand bees in the garden

Sand bees are often responsible for making holes in the lawn. You can also dig corridors in the substrate of the flower pot or flower box (13.18 € at Amazon *) so that they can be observed on the balcony and terrace in spring. However, there is no reason to combat it, as the insects pose no threat.

Only in extreme exceptional cases, for example when the animals nest in large numbers near kindergartens, are deterrent measures into consideration. A relocation of the nests requires a special permit. In all measures and methods, the survival of the sand bees has the highest priority. The use of insecticides or home remedies is neither recommended nor necessary.

Moisten caves

If you want to get rid of sand bees, you can gently moisten the cave entrances. Make sure the animals don't drown. When the habitat becomes too humid, sand bees abandon the construction of their burrows and look for an alternative location. This method only works if the females are still excavating. If the entrances have already been sealed, larval development is in full swing. From then on you are no longer allowed to water the breeding grounds, as you endanger the offspring.

Withdraw the sun

You can also drive away sand bees through permanent shade. Put up a parasol or stretch an awning over the open area that is colonized by a female. It quickly notices that the living conditions are no longer optimal and breaks off the construction of the cave. This method is also only recommended if the female has not yet closed the entrances. If eggs are already in the nest, development is endangered by the lack of heat.

earth bees

Protect sand bees

Instead of getting rid of the beneficial insects, enjoy the species in your garden. You can be sure that your garden is one of the most natural and special habitats. If you want to do something to protect the earth bees, you can redesign the garden and balcony accordingly and plant them close to nature. The more varied the habitat, the greater the chance of successful colonization by sand bees.

Create small habitats

Set up flower boxes filled with sand (€ 13.18 at Amazon *) or pots to offer the sand bees a suitable substrate for building their nests. The vessel should be placed in a sun-exposed place in the garden or on the balcony, as the animals need warmth.

If you have enough space in the garden, you can also border a small area with hollow blocks or rubble stones and fill this about 50 to 100 centimeters high with drifting sand or loamy sand. As an alternative to stones, you can also use dead wood trunks and thus offer a habitat for several specialized insect species.


If you have wide eaves, you can make a sand bed right next to the house. Here the nest holes are optimally protected from rain.

Keep ways open

Small trails in the garden offer some species particularly good conditions. The floor is kept open by kicks. The bryony sand bee prefers such slightly compacted areas. Think about whether all the paths in the garden really need to be paved. If there is no alternative, you can lay the paving stones with the largest possible joints. Even then, sand bees will still find good opportunities to build nests.

Plant food sources

If the living space is right, all that is missing is equipping the garden with suitable nectar plants. The more diverse you design the garden, the more species feel addressed. In order to attract rarer species into the garden, special forage plants must be available. The bryony sand bee nests in gardens that also contain male specimens of various types of bryunbits.


It is worthwhile to take a closer look at the food spectrum of sand bees. Many species prefer plants whose cultivation requires a minimum of care.

What do earth bees look like?

earth bees

These wild bees look very different. There are very small species that grow to be five millimeters long. The large sand bees reach a length of 16 millimeters. Their basic color varies from black to black-red and can rarely have a metallic sheen.

Most earth bees have furry hair and are recognizable by a light hairline on the abdomen. There are hairbrushes on the hind legs that sand bees use to collect pollen from the stamens. Different characteristics can be used to distinguish between males and females.

Hind legswithout a lock of hairwith lock of hair
facebrightly spottedvelvety hairy pit
sensor13 links12 links

Difference between earth wasps and earth bees

Earth wasps show aggressive behavior and thus appear intrusive. Sand bees, on the other hand, are shy and withdrawn. But both insects only sting when threatened. A characteristic distinguishing feature is the hairiness, because earth wasps are often only hairy in places and can thus be clearly differentiated from the furry hairy earth bees.

The insects can be distinguished not only by their appearance, but also by their way of life and nest building. While the earth wasp usually only uses one entrance to the underground cave, the earth bee digs several holes. They usually use the cave for many years. Erdwasps look for new quarters the following year.

Way of life and development

Unlike honey bees, sand bees do not form a state. You live as a loner. The female is solely responsible for building her nest and looking after the offspring. Several females rarely form nest aggregations in the immediate vicinity. However, shared use is the exception. The native species are active in spring and mostly fly between April and June. There are few species that can be observed until late summer.

Nest building

In the spring they mate and lay their eggs in tunnels five to 60 centimeters deep. The females dig their own breeding holes by compacting the soil with saliva into clumps and carrying them out of the cave. The clods of earth are piled up around the entrance.

Often clods of earth roll back into the corridor during the construction process, which then have to be carried outside again. Downpours support the construction work. The clods of earth are moistened and harden after drying, creating a stable entrance.

Sand bees do not actually build honeycombs, but rather branch nests that have a vertical main entrance. This branches out into short side passages, each ending in a brood cell. The nest is mostly arranged vertically. The female lays pollen and nectar in each brood cell so that the larvae that hatch later find enough food. An egg is laid in each brood cell before it is closed.

Cross section of an underground breeding cave

From larva to bee

When the larvae hatch, they feed on the food provided in the shelter of the cave. This is sufficient until pupation, because the mother does not take any further brood care. Many bee larvae such as the common sand bee develop a protective cocoon that they spin from their own glandular secretions.

When the new generation hatches depends on the climatic conditions. If the winters are mild, the adult sand bees come out of their burrows in late summer. In Germany, sand bees do not hatch until the following spring, with males freeing themselves from their cocoons before females. You're trying to mate with these right away.


Sand bees are very specialized when it comes to food. Their menu includes pollen and nectar from asparagus, finger herbs and speedwell, but also from many sunflower, umbelliferous and cruciferous plants, as well as butterflies. Many species use different food sources. The red-furry sand bee prefers to fly on currant and gooseberry bushes, but also accepts other food plants. About half of the domestic earth bees fly exclusively on certain nectar plants.

  • Willow sand bee : pollen and nectar from willow
  • Bryony Sand Bee : specializes in bryony species
  • Knautien sandbee : field scabious, pigeon scabies


Many of the bees native to Germany pupate in late summer, but spend the cold season in the shelter of the cocoon. The insects only hatch and crawl out of their cave in the coming spring. The parent animals do not survive the winter.

Natural enemies

earth bees

There are many enemies that sandbees can doomly. Predators benefit from the protein-rich insects, while parasites and fungi attack sand bees and their larvae in a different way.


Predators prey on sand bees as a full insect. These include crab spiders that lie in wait on the flowers of their prey and wait for a visit. Digger wasps can also pose a threat to earth bees. These paralyze the insects with a single sting and then suck them out.

Other predators:

  • different species of predator flies
  • Types of predatory bugs
  • insectivorous birds such as bee-eaters


Sand bees are at risk from oil beetles, fan-winged birds and woolen floats. Many cuckoo bees such as blood bees or wasp bees lay their eggs in the sand bees' underground nests. In this way, cuckoo bees save themselves the search for food, because their larvae feed on pollen and nectar in the brood cells. Such parasitic species have specialized in a few host animals. They are dependent on its existence and continued existence.


This is how sand bees protect themselves against parasites

Some species of sand bees, such as the Scottish earth bee and other species that are not native to Germany, live communally. Usually several sister females live together in one nest. This is started by a female and expanded by the sisters. In this way, latecomers save the laborious digging of passages in particularly hard ground. In addition, the females living in the corridors can protect the brood from invading parasites. Solitary sand bees that leave their nest after laying eggs do not enjoy this protection.

Fungi and bacteria

The spread of mold or bacteria in the closed brood cells can have devastating effects. Therefore, sand bees are very picky about their nesting sites. They avoid habitats with dense vegetation or excessively wet areas, as these offer optimal living conditions for fungal spores and bacteria. Instead, the insects choose warm and dry environments.

These habitats are unattractive for fungi and bacteria:

  • dusty sidewalks
  • Low vegetation and sunlit embankments
  • loosely overgrown and sunny lawns

Species and habitat

earth bees

Sand bee species are predominantly found on the northern continents. Most earth bees prefer habitats that have dry and warm conditions. Unlike mason bees, who like to nest in window frames, sand bees look for loose substrates to create a breeding ground. Open soils with sandy spots provide optimal conditions for cave construction. Soils with a high proportion of clay make it difficult to build nest holes.

Because of their main distribution in sandy habitats, the species got their German name. They differ greatly in their appearance and show differences in terms of flight times, food spectrum and habitat.

Scientific nameFlight timeNesting placefoodstatus
Shimmering blue sand beeAndrena agilissimaMay - JulySteep wallsCruciferous vegetablesRare
Two-colored sand beeAndrena bicolorMarch - AugustForest edges, bushes, gardens, parksBluebellsfrequently
Gray-black sand beeAndrena cinerariaApril MayGravel pits, river landscapes, forest edges, gardensdifferent plantsfrequently
Common sand beeAndrena flavipesApril - AugustForest edges, hedges, pits, gardensUmbellifers, daisy family, buttercups and rose plantsfrequently
Scottish earth beeAndrena scoticaApril MayDry grass, near-natural meadows, gravel areasdifferent plantsfrequently

Harmful or useful?

Sand bees do not pose a threat to humans, nor are they harmful to other living beings or plants. Even if many people fear the massive appearance of bees in spring, there is no need to worry. Sand bees do not display aggressive behavior. They are shy and do not defend their nests.

The males are unable to sting. Although the females have a stinger, they rarely use it in dangerous situations. However, the stinger is too weak to penetrate human skin. You can let children and pets play safely in the garden and enjoy the ecological benefits of sand bees.

Why sand bees are useful:

  • pollinate different plants
  • increase the harvest of fruits and vegetables
  • indicate valuable habitats as they occur in threatened habitats
  • loosen the soil

Nature conservation in Germany

earth bees

Although most native species of sand bees are common, earth bees are protected. The bee population is falling dramatically. When the pollinating insects die out, many plants have no chance of reproducing. According to the Federal Nature Conservation Act, it is forbidden to catch, disturb or kill animals. The protection also applies to the nests, which may not be removed, destroyed or relocated without a special permit. Some Andrena species are already considered endangered because their habitats are becoming scarce. Andrena marginata is even endangered.

Changed environmental conditions and human intervention have devastating consequences for sand bees.

Sand bees in danger

Many species of sand bees are still frequent in Germany, but the situation can change quickly. There are natural nesting sites on poor dry grassland with a sandy bottom. Forest fires, floods or landslides continuously create open locations that are populated by sand bees. More and more of these habitats are being destroyed so that the insects have to reorient themselves. They colonize locations close to humans. But human interventions ensure that such habitats also become rare. Gravel and sand paths are covered with tar and areas are meliorated.

Sand bees are at risk:

  • Shortage of food supply
  • Ignorance of people
  • monotonous garden design

frequently asked Questions

Do earth bees make honey?

Sand bees collect pollen and nectar, but they do not make honey from it. The insects use plant-based nectar donors as a source of food for themselves and to create a food basis for their offspring. To do this, they equip each brood cell with pollen before laying their eggs. The larvae have to feed on this until they pupate, because they do not leave the cave until the following year.

When do earth bees hatch?

The larvae hatch a short time after oviposition if there is sufficient warmth in the brood cavity. They remain in the shelter of the underground tunnels until pupation and usually overwinter in their cocoons. Only in the following spring do the young insects bite through their protective cover and free themselves from the closed earth passages. Most species of sand bees fly between April and June.

Are earth bees dangerous?

There is no danger from the very differently colored species. Sand bees do not defend their nests. The female leaves this after laying eggs. If it gets into a dangerous situation itself, it tries to defend itself. However, these defense methods are completely harmless to humans.

Do earth bees have a stinger?

Males are stingless. Only the females have a sting with which they can sting in case of danger. The sting is not dangerous for humans because the delicate sting cannot pierce the skin. You don't have to fear a sting from the frolicking dog either.

How old do sand bees get?

After males mate, they die. The time-consuming part of life now begins for the females, because they build the nest cavity and provide the individual brood cells with food. About four weeks after the mating activities, the females also die. The larvae overwinter in their cocoons to crawl out of the nest cavity next spring. Then the drama begins again.

What do you do against earth bees?

For reasons of species protection, control is not an option. Removing and destroying the nests is just as punishable as catching and killing the insects. Relocation requires a special permit.