Leafcutter bees are great craftswomen!

 

With a name like leaf cutter, you would think these bees are scary for plants, but they only use what they need.  A leaf cutter bee will carefully carve a half-moon shape out of broad leaves or petals to fashion egg cells for her young, and the size of that cut corresponds to the size of the leaf cutter species.  One leaf cutter variety is around 1″ long, while the other is roughly 1/4″ long.  So, if you see different sizes on your leaves, you have different varieties of leaf cutters in your yard.

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If you see half-moon cuts like this one in your broad leaf plants, you have leaf cutter bees living in your yard.

Leaf cutter bees will use flower petals too!

Leaf-cutter bees are another native species of bees found in most parts of North America. They are smaller than a honeybee, and have darker stripes paired with pastel yellow colored stripes across the abdomen.

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The scientific name for this species is Megachilidae, and their name says it all, they do cut leaves for a purpose. They get their name from the way they use pieces of leaves to form egg cells which they then store in long, hollow cavities.  They use a glue-like substance from glands near their mouths to sew pieces of leaves together, which they have carved from leaves of lilacs and other broad-leafed plants. The shape is that of a half-moon, and the size of the piece they take is very consistent. They only take as much as they need, never destroying the plants from which they take the leaf fragments.

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This is what the inside of a leaf cutter bee nesting hole looks like, as seen in our observation house (soon to be available again).

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A row of beautifully crafted nesting cells from my leafcutter bee house.

Leafcutter bees are a solitary breed, like the mason bee. This translates into a more docile creature with nothing to defend but her life. So the only time she would sting would be to defend her life, and this is a rare occurrence, making her a very welcoming guest in your own yard!  I have spent many minutes peering into the nesting blocks while these busy bees fly in and out going about their nesting business.  I never once felt threatened by them, and in fact, felt ignored, entirely!  This is also true of the nature of mason bees.

 

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There is one row capped with leaves! And there is a leafcutter bee going into another row to nest.

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Here she is coming out!

Unlike mason bees, leaf-cutter bees will do their own excavating of soft rotting wood, or holes in thick stemmed plants, and in any conveniently located crevice.  They also like having conveniently located nesting blocks with inviting holes as well, and we have had success with them nesting in ours.  Nesting blocks need protection, so they must be paired with a nice house, and we have many options.

Like mason bees, leafcutter bees are very good pollinators compared to the honey bee, because of where they carry pollen.  One leaf-cutter bee can pollinate at least what 20, and even up to 40, honey bees can pollinate. Leaf-cutter bees do not have pollen carrying baskets on their hind legs, but they do carry lots of pollen via static cling created by the hairs on their abdomen called scopa. The way they visit flowers is much like the mason bees, diving into the pollen as they fly from flower to flower. This technique sets them apart from honeybees and makes them very effective pollinators.

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Look at all that pollen on this leaf cutter bee’s abdomen!

Finally, leaf-cutter bees do not make honey, but they cultivate quite the production of food sources, as well as flower seed production, through their fierce pollinating efforts, and it would be foolish not to recognize this talent useful to us as humans. Like the honeybee, leafcutter bees, along with all other species of bees, need our help!  Become a great host to these fascinating creatures, along with other species of pollinators, by setting up a complete habitat for them this season.

Thank you for joining the movement!

Leafcutter residents in my bee house!

We now have proof that leafcutter bees do like to nest in our beetle kill pine house! We were fortunate enough to be standing outside observing the house on Sunday (after our pollinator garden event) when one, two, and three flew into the nesting blocks simultaneously! I have been peeking at the house every day since.  As you can see in the first photo, they are busy cutting little half-moon shapes out of the lilac bush leaves, which will not harm the plant, as the bees only take exactly what they need to form egg cells. Check out the expanded story about the habits of the leafcutter bees. It’s very interesting, and it isn’t too late to get your own house, nesting block, and bees! Visit our store at http://www.thebeeswaggle.com to place an order!

OH the bees we will see…

imageMore review on native bees I have covered so far.

Leafcutter Bees

Solitary

Friendly

Active late Spring through Summer

Nest in holes and can excavate soft wood to make a nest.

Don’t make honey

Need leaves for egg cells

You can be a good host to these bees by providing a similar house to the mason bee house (which you can buy at our online store, just follow The Bees Waggle Store link to the right.)  Leafcutter bees also fill holes with their leafy egg cells to incubate over the winter and emerge in the Spring.  Do not use pesticides and plant lots of flowers for them to collect pollen and nectar.

More on Leaf-cutter bees!

Happy Wednesday everyone! I am pleased to announce that spring has begun in Denver, CO, and I am loving seeing all of the wonderful wildlife out and about! I was excited to see a big bumble bee bustling around my backyard yesterday!

Leaf-cutter bees are part of the same family as mason bees, and share the solitary lifestyle, but nest gregariously, next to each other.  In the spring leaf-cutter bees emerge from their leafy cocoons. Males emerge first and wait for the females to emerge. Males are waiting to mate, and will die in 3-4 weeks after emerging.  Females will live up to 8 weeks working to build a nest full of cells. She will lay between 35-40 eggs in her short lifespan!

Once a female has mated, she will search for an appropriate nesting site, preferably a hollowed out tube which lays horizontally.  She can excavate, unlike the mason bee, so a leaf-cutter bee might find rotting wood or thick stemmed plants to clear out and begin building cells. She has strong cutting mandibles (jaws), so the task of excavation is easy for her, but not fierce enough to damage property, like homes.

Now that she has cleared a nesting site, she begins collecting leaf fragments. She prefers rose plants, lilacs, green ash, and Virginia creepers for her leaves, but she will also use flower pedals. She cuts small round pieces, then large oval pieces, followed by small oval pieces to form the leafy cell. It takes her roughly 2 hours to complete this task.  She will use anywhere from 9-14 leaf pieces for each cell, depending on the size, in diameter, of her nesting site.  The glue-like substance in her glands as she chews adheres the pieces of leaves together.

Now that the leafy cell is composed, she begins collecting provision for her egg.  She loves clover and alfalfa for nectar, so these bees are popular amongst farmers, and I even plan to plant clover in my backyard this year! Her method of retrieving pollen is much like her cousin the mason bee. She dives into flowers and collects as much pollen on her abdomen as possible. She too, is a very good pollinator, and also better than the honey bee. One leaf-cutter bee can do the job of 20 honey bees!

The provision is layered as such: first pollen, then a mix with most pollen some nectar, then most nectar some pollen, and finally all nectar. This layering is in accordance with what the larva will need at various stages of its development.

She lays the egg on top of the completed provision and then seals the cell with another piece of leaf.  

To view what the inside of a cell looks like, click on the link below.

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This is one day of work. One cell, one day, eight hours.  Then it begins again the next day until she has laid all of her eggs. She is a fierce and dedicated worker with many benefits to offer us too!

Leafcutter Bee: The Overview

A leaf-cutter bee flying while carrying a piece of a leaf. Posted by Dino Martins

Any name with cutter in it seems frightening, but I am here to redeem these bees of such a stigma by bringing understanding through education.

Leaf-cutter bees are another native species of bees found in most parts of North America.  They are the size of a honeybee, but are darker in color with light bands across the abdomen.

The scientific name for this species is Megachilidae, and their name says it all, they do cut leaves for purpose. They get their name from the way they use pieces of leaves to form egg cells which they then store in long, hollow cavities. 

This species is another solitary breed, like the mason bee. However, unlike mason bees, leaf-cutter bees will do their own excavating in rotting wood, holes in thick stemmed plants, and in any conveniently located crevice.

They too, like mason bees, are very good pollinators compared to the honey bee. One leaf-cutter bee can pollinate what 20 honey bees can pollinate.  Leaf-cutter bees do not have pollen carrying baskets on their hind legs, but they do carry lots of pollen via static cling created by the hairs on their abdomen. The way they visit flowers is much like the mason bees, diving into the pollen as they fly from flower to flower.  This techniques sets them apart from honeybees and makes them very effective pollinators.

Finally, leaf-cutter bees do not make honey, but they cultivate quite the production of food sources through their fierce pollinating efforts, and it would be foolish not to recognize this talent useful to us as humans.  What I mean to say is that we can host these bees in our own yards, and I will provide information how at the end of the week, along with how to host mason bees.

So our adventure begins, into the lives of yet another fascinating species of bees. Please join me again tomorrow to learn more about this uniques bee species.

Thanks for joining the movement!