Written by Angie Lynch
Last Thursday morning we realized we had new residents on the farm; Leafcutter Bees! While taking a break on one of our picnic tables in the shade, we noticed a bee acting agitated while flying around our group. The bee was holding something, upon closer inspection we saw that it was a piece of a leaf. We realized she was trying to get to a hole in the picnic table… we had been sitting on top of her nest! Of course she was agitated! We took a quick study break to research our new friend, here’s what we learned:
Leafcutter Bees (Megachilidae spp.) are solitary bees, this means females are queens but must do all of the work that an entire hive colony would do. Females build nests within cavities already built by beetles, woodpeckers, or other animals. She lays eggs in the cavity, then chews circular leaf pieces from nearby plants, which she uses to seal each egg chamber. This protects her eggs from predators while she’s away from the nest. The males fertilize the females and then die within two weeks.
Our queen was happy to get back in her nest once we moved out of the way.
Leafcutter Bees are very gentle
We can personally attest to this one, we were literally sitting on her nest, and our farm bee did not attempt to sting any of us. The Leafcutter Bee’s gentle nature stems from their solitary lifestyle. Since the females have to perform all the duties of an entire hive, they do not have time to defend their nest cavity, and there is no need for aggression. If a Leafcutter Bee feels it’s life is threatened, it will likely bite with it’s mandibles first, then sting as a last resort. However, unlike the intense burning from a Honeybee or Bumble Bee sting, a Leafcutter Bee sting is more similar to a mosquito bite.
They’re great pollinators
They’re important pollinators of many wildflowers, as well as cultivated fruits and vegetables, and are used by commercial growers to pollinate blueberries, onions, carrots and alfalfa. They’re actually much better pollinators than the more familiar Bumble Bee! While Bumble Bees wet the pollen they collect so it sticks to their legs during transport to the hive, Leafcutter Bees inadvertently carry pollen from flower to flower on their hairy abdomen, because the pollen is dry it easily falls off. Leafcutter Bees forage for pollen and nectar within 100m of their nest, so if you’re lucky enough to host these bees in your yard, they’re guaranteed to stay close to your garden!
If you want to make your own luck, it’s pretty easy to attract these bees to your yard! First of all you need all the things most bees require for survival: sources of pollen, nectar, and water. For Leafcutter Bees you also need nesting sites and building materials. They will use the leaves of almost any broadleaf deciduous plant to build their nests, but some species seem to prefer roses, azaleas, ash, redbud, bougainvillea, and other plants with thin smooth leaves. Some species of Leafcutter Bees will even use petals and resin for their nests! On the farm, our Leafcutter Bee has been using the lilac leaves.
Characteristic holes in our Lilac leaves from the Leafcutter Bee.
For more information on how to attracit Leafcutter Bees to your backyard visit https://permaculturenews.org/2014/09/02/lets-invite-leaf-cutter-bees-gardens/
Halifax Garden Network. (2012). Native Bees: Who they are, what they do, and how to keep ‘em happy. Retrieved from https://halifaxgardennetwork.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/native-bees-who-are-they-what-they-do-and-how-to-keep-em-happy/
Honeybee Conservancy. (2016). Leafcutter Bee: Genial, Efficient, Tireless. Retrieved from https://thehoneybeeconservancy.org/leafcutter-bee/
Mesa, E. (2014). Let’s Invite Leafcutter Bees into Our Gardens. Retrieved from https://permaculturenews.org/2014/09/02/lets-invite-leaf-cutter-bees-gardens/
Serrano, D. (2017). Featured Creatures: Leafcutting Bees. Retrieved from https://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/bees/leafcutting_bees.htm#host