Leafcutter Bees at Work

Photo by Mark Higgins
A field of alfalfa on a beautiful June day

Once your adult leafcutter bees begin to hatch, the Backyard Pollinator will soon become the hardest working pollination system you have ever seen. When the buzz  begins you will have no problem getting close to observe what those busy bees are up to.

Read these notes to discover what hardworking little bees they are. And BEE sure to share your newfound knowledge with your friends and family. They will BEE amazed too!

Native to SW Asia and NE Europe, this particular species of leafcutter bee (megachile rotundata) was introduced to North America in the 1930’s.

Farmers who went to Europe as soldiers in WWI took notice of alfalfa fields being pollinated by wild populations of leafcutter bees. This led to the semi-domestication of the species for commercial use in North America.

Leafcutter bee emerges from its cocoon

After hatching male and female leafcutter bees mate. The males have completed their purpose and die within a few days.

Each female bee performs many tasks such as locating a nesting site, cutting leaf material to create cells, gathering pollen and nectar and laying eggs.

Photo by George Pilkington
Working hard to cut a leaf

Two types of leaf or flower materials are cut by female bees:

  1. oval and curved shapes to create cells;
  2. very round flat pieces to cap the tunnels.

Photo is by Bob Peterson
Female bee with a piece of leaf

leaf showing cuts by leafcutter bee

Photo by George Pilkington
Leaf showing cuts by leafcutter bee

As seen in the photo of the cut away styrofoam nest:

  1. cells have a lining of silky material that is shiny brown;
  2. the cells are different to the capping material at the entrance of the tunnel.
The difference between bee cells and capping material is evident

The difference between bee cells
and capping material is evident

Bee flying with a cut

Photo from PinInterest
Bee flying with a piece of leaf

Close up of cells in a nesting block

Cells containing pollen/nectar paste & larvae

Photo by Wandering Wadis.com
Pink flower cut-outs inside a stem

Cell material is stuck together with a glue-like secretion. In nature their cells can be found in plant stems or in wood with bored holes.

Man-made habitat is made of wood or styrofoam with many uniform holes for mechanized harvest.

Photo by Royal Horticultural Society
Leafcutter cells in an old log

Photo by George Pilkington of Nuturing Nature
Bee cells built in wooden nesting material

Photo by Mark Higgins
Nesting material hangs inside
a bee hut

Leaf cutter bees remain close to home collecting pollen and nectar within 100 metres or so of their nest. This makes them a popular addition to flower gardens and backyard spaces.

Pollen is carried on their hairy abdomen and then deposited inside the nesting holes. Small bits of pollen fall off these hairs as they forage among flowers resulting in effective cross pollination.

Leafcutter bee collecting pollen from a daisy

Leafcutter bee collecting pollen from a daisy

Lots of pollen on the abdomen of this bee

Lots of pollen on the abdomen of this bee

Leafcutter bees are very efficient pollinators of many varieties of flowers. They can forage on even the tiniest of flowers such as catmint or lavender.

Gardeners will understand the benefits for pollinators and the value of leafcutter bees in their gardens.

Photo by Magnus Manske
Flowering catmint

Leafcutter bees pollinate flowers, berries, fruit trees.

Bright pansy flowers

In flower gardens rose bushes and pansies are readily cut for nesting material.

Leaf cutter bees pollinate flowers, berries, fruit trees

Photo credit  A Library of Design
Fragrant pink roses

Flower pieces stuck together into cells

Photo by Petopia Forums
Flower pieces stuck together into cells

In a commercial setting leaf cutter bees are used to pollinate alfalfa, carrots, other vegetables and some fruits like wild blueberries.

A tenfold increase in the pollination of alfalfa flowers is noticed when leaf cutter bees are distributed into our fields.

Leaf cutter bees pollinate flowers, berries, fruit trees

A wild blueberry crop

Leaf cutter bees pollinate flowers, berries, fruit trees

Bee enjoying fruit tree blossoms

Leafcutter bees have to achieve a lot in a short span of time.  The Backyard Pollinator is your opportunity to witness these amazing creatures first hand.