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Small box, brightly painted, with holes drilled in front
Bee box at the DRLC.

Bee Boxes

Bee boxes are a type of pollinator nesting and sheltering site. They are easy to make but can also be purchased fairly cheaply. Minimal routine maintenance is required. For information, search the internet for "native bee boxes" or "native bee house."

The Sonoran Desert is home to about 1,000 of the estimated 20,000 bee species on Earth, from the tiny Perdita minima (less than .08 in/2 mm) to hefty carpenter bees (Xylocopa, 1.5 inches/40 mm). In fact, the area around Tucson is thought to have one of the world’s most diverse bee populations, with at least 45 genera in 7 families. Sonoran Desert bees typically nest in underground burrows, hollow plant remains, or in tunnels abandoned by wood-boring beetles. Adult bees typically emerge in spring or summer, at a rate of one generation per year.

A bee will rarely sting when it is foraging on pollen, nectar, or water. However, a bee may sting if it is handled roughly (swatted at or stepped on), or feels alarmed in any way. Generally, if you leave a bee alone, it will leave you alone.

How You Can Help

In addition to providing pollinator gardens and bee boxes, you can help Sonoran Desert bees by knowing the difference between bees and their less-friendly relations, yellowjackets and wasps. Here are some ways to tell the difference:

  • Bees have plump, furry bodies. Hornets, yellowjackets, and wasps have smooth, skinnier bodies.
  • When bees fly, their legs are generally not visible. When hornets, yellowjackets, and wasps fly, two thin, long legs can be seen hanging down from their bodies.
  • Most bees are non-aggressive. Hornets, yellowjackets, wasps, and Africanized bees are typically more aggressive.
Three images: a hairy-bodied bee, smooth-bodied yellowjacket, and black wasp
In these photos, the furry body of the bee (left) is easy to distinguish from the smooth, hairless body of the yellowjacket (middle), and the thinner body of the wasp (right).

Photos: USGS/J. Giersch

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Last updated: June 21, 2018