Ashy Mining Bees

An ashy mining bee resting on a stick
Ashy Mining Bee Classification
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Andrenidae
Genus: Andrena
Species: Andrena cineraria

Ashy mining bees are solitary digging bees, which means that they dig their own holes in the ground for nesting. Ashy mining bees are scientifically known as Andrena cineraria. Additionally, they are known as gray mining bees or Danubian miners. [1]

The ashy mining bee belongs to one of the largest genera of insects, Andrena. Andrena belongs to the family Andrenidae, which is a subfamily of the Hymenoptera. While Andrena bees are found throughout the world, ashy mining bees are only found in Europe.

All Andrena bees including the ashy mining bee, are ground-nesting, solitary bees.

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    Why Are They Called Ashy Mining Bees?

    Ashy mining bees are named for their light gray color, which is similar to ash, and their digging and burrowing behaviors, which could be considered mining activities.

    The word andrena is derived from the Greek word for hornet or wasp, and cineraria is derived from the Latin word for ash.

    Where Can Ashy Mining Bees Be Found?

    Ashy mining bees can be found throughout Europe, including Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia. During the months of April to June, ashy mining bees can be observed in these areas.

    Ashy mining bees are usually not found in the northern regions of the United States, Canada, or tropical regions. 

    Because they live in temperate climates, ashy mining bees have hairy bodies in order to protect themselves from the cold. As a means of protecting themselves from the cold, they overwinter in their brood cells.

    How to Identify an Ashy Mining Bee

    Ashy mining bess can be identified by its small black and gray appearance, with a half gray, half black head, gray tufts on its thorax, and gray stripes on its abdomen.

    The male ashy mining bee is generally smaller than the female, and has more light gray hairs on the sides of the thoraxes and on the top of the abdomen.

    Ashy mining bees have a size similar to honey bees and their abdomens are a deep, shiny black in color. Both males and females have gray or white hair on their faces.

    Close up of a female ashy mining bee sitting on bark
    The female ashy mining bee is generally larger than its male counterpart and its antennae have one fewer segment

    Moreover, ashy mining bees are also distinguished by the very fine hairs covering their bodies and by pollen baskets used by females to collect pollen.

    As with most bees, ashy mining bees possess large compound eyes on the sides of their heads as well as small ocelli on the tops of their foreheads.

    There are 12 segments in the antennae of the female ashy mining bee, and 13 segments in the antennae of the males.

    Where Do Ashy Mining Bees Live?

    The ashy mining bee lives in sandy soil in coastal areas, riverbanks, and woodlands, as do all Andrena bees. Sloped surfaces for nesting, such as riverbanks and hills are preferred by the ashy mining bee.

    The Andrena bee family, including the ashy mining bee, is solitary, which means that they nest in individual nests in the ground.

    Ashy mining bees live in small holes about the size of a pencil, which may resemble anthills, with piles of dirt surrounding the entrance. [2]

    Ashy mining bee emerging from its nest
    Ashy mining bee nests are easily identified by their resemblance to anthills with piles of dirt surrounding the entrance

    Ashy mining bees sometimes build their nests in holes that are left behind by other insects or small rodents such as squirrels and mice.

    An ashy mining bee nest consists of cells lined with waterproof material secreted by the bees. This waterproof material is secreted in order to protect and build the cells in which pollen will be stored and eggs will be laid.

    Ashy mining bees live underground, making them vulnerable to agricultural practices such as plowing, spading, and digging. Mulching will discourage ashy mining bees from nesting in a specific area because they prefer bare soil near tree cover. [3]

    What Do Ashy Mining Bees Eat?

    As Ashy mining bees do not produce honey, they eat both nectar and pollen. The ashy mining bee larvae are fed a mixture of pollen, nectar, and enzymes mixed together by the adult females.

    The Ashy mining bee is a generalist, meaning it feeds on a wide range of plants. Among them are daisies, buttercups, mustard plants, and brambles [4].

    Because ashy mining bees are generalists, they are in less danger of extinction than other types of Andrena bees that feed on only a limited range of flowers. 

    In spite of this, it is still imperative to protect ashy mining bees from agricultural practices that damage their habitat, since they are an important pollinator.

    Do Ashy Mining Bees Pollinate?

    Ashy mining bees play a critical role in pollination because they fly between flowers and carry pollen from one plant to another. It is not an intentional process but rather the result of ashy mining bees’ foraging efforts.

    Many plants would become extinct without pollinators such as ashy mining bees. Consequently, it is extremely important to protect ashy mining bees as pollinators in order to prevent havoc on local ecosystems.

    Ashy mining bee pollinating the pink cosmos flower
    Did you know that ashy mining bees do not produce or consume honey? Nectar and pollen are the main sources of food for these bees.

    The ashy mining bee carries pollen both on the hairs all over its body and in pollen baskets on its hind legs, which are designed to hold pollen while it flies.

    The ashy mining bees pollinate flowers by dropping grains of collected pollen between flowers.

    Do Ashy Mining Bees Make Honey?

    Because ashy mining bees are solitary, they do not produce honey, which makes them quite docile, as they have no food stores to defend.

    Unlike the social honey bee, ashy mining bee larvae are fed nectar and pollen balls mixed together instead of honey.

    In contrast to social bees that build hives and honeycombs in which to store honey, solitary bees like the ashy mining bee do not build honeycombs and do not produce honey.

    Do Ashy Mining Bees Sting?

    Female ashy mining bees are capable of stinging, but they rarely do so. The stingers of ashy mining bees, like those of all Andrena bees, are not long enough to penetrate the skin of a person. Therefore, do not harm them severely. Unlike females, males do not possess stingers.

    A female ashy mining bee may sting you if it feels threatened, but this is a very rare occurrence. You can avoid being stung by an ashy mining bee by simply leaving them to their foraging and nesting activities.

    It is possible to stop an ashy mining bee from stinging by brushing it off and slowly leaving the area. Because ashy mining bees are non-aggressive, they will not follow a person who threatens them if the person walks away and leaves them alone.

    Ashy Mining Bee vs. Honey Bee

    Ashy Mining Bee Honey Bee
    Appearance Similar in size to the honey bee, with males being smaller than females. Black bodies with light gray markings on the thorax, abdomen, and face. Workers and drones about 15 mm long, queens closer to 20 mm. Black bodies with yellow and orange stripes and markings on the head.
    Colony Size Solitary bees, do not live in colonies, each bee creates its own nest in which it lives and lays eggs, in the case of females. Up to 80,000 worker bees, hundreds of male drones, and a single queen living in one nest together.
    Stinging Rarely stings, stings do not hurt, males do not have stingers. Stings to protect honey or if threatened, stings hurt, males do not have stingers.
    Honey Production Solitary bees, do not produce honey at all. Feeds on pollen and nectar rather than honey. Not farmed by humans for their honey production. Produces large quantities of edible, sweet honey. Feeds their young on the produced honey. Farmed by humans for their honey production.
    Nesting Behavior Nests in soft, sandy soil or in existing holes left behind by rodents. Builds brood cells out of dirt and enzyme secretions. Builds nests in existing cavities, includes hexagonal honeycomb cells in which they store honey and lay eggs.
    Region Found only in Europe, including, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Found in most temperate and even tropical parts of the world, depending on the species.
    Pollination Important pollinators of many flowers, not given as much credit for their pollination. Important pollinators of many flowers, known for their pollination.
    Diet Eats nectar as adults and a nectar, pollen, and enzyme mixture as larvae. Eats nectar as adults and honey as larvae. Honey is produced by mixing nectar with preservative enzymes and is allowed to dry into a thick, sweet substance.
    Reproduction Each individual female mates with a male and lays its own eggs in its own nests. It feeds them on a mixture of nectar and pollen, leaving them sealed in mud cells to develop. One queen bee is mated with a drone bee, and she produces all the bees for the colony’s life cycle, including worker bees, drone bees, and new queen bees.
    An ashy mining bee pollinating the hawthorn flower
    Without the existence of bees such as the ashy mining bee many plants would become extinct making them critical pollinators

    Reproduction & Lifecycle of Ashy Mining Bees

    The life cycle and reproductive habits of ashy mining bees are similar to those of all other Andrena bee species.

    Ashy mining bees live for approximately four to six weeks in the spring. Their lifespan is usually one generation per year, and they hibernate as adults during the winter months before emerging in the spring. [4]

    In April, after the male ash mining bees have finished hibernating and the temperature has increased, they emerge and mate with their female counterparts. A pheromone trail is left by the males of ashy mining bees for the females to follow.

    In contrast to social bees, all female ashy mining bees are fertile, meaning that they mate with males in order to produce eggs. When the male and female ashy mining bees have mated, the male dies and the female digs her nest.

    Generally, ashy mining bees nest in sandy soil at an angle, such as on hills or riverbanks. As these female ashy mining bees dig into the soil, they form tunnels and brood cells in which to lay their eggs. [5] The eggs are laid in small cells lined with a waterproof secretion that they produce.

    Pollen and nectar are gathered by the female ashy mining bees during the next few weeks of June for feeding their larvae. 

    In the spring, when temperatures increase, the ashy mining bee larvae emerge from the ground as adults. The ashy mining bees overwinter in their nest cells and emerge in the spring, resuming the life cycle of the species.

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