Sitting in the garden, quietly reflecting can bring about many surprises. Recently one of those surprises was caught out of the corner of my eye. As I was sitting looking about at nothing in particular, I spied a very bright green something moving about on the arbor.
Of course I had to check it out, and this is what I saw. A small bee carrying what looked like a leaf and trying to squeeze into this hole in the arbor. I grabbed my camera, and was riveted to the spot. I watched the bee squeeze in and then come back out in a flash, leave and come back to do it all over again several times.
I even followed the bee to see what it was doing once it flew away. It lighted upon a leaf and seconds later it was back with another leaf trying to stuff itself in this small hole. I had never seen anything like this especially the tenacity with which it kept pushing until it made it inside the hole. Needless to say I had to find out more about this bee. Of course it’s common name is Leafcutter(ing) Bee (Megachilidae).
These bees they are important native pollinators in North America especially for wildflowers, fruits, vegetables and other crops. Considered one of the most efficient pollinators they are most active when the weather warms to above 70 degrees. I saw mine in late August as the temps were still in the high 80s. I suspect they have been in the garden all summer just gone unnoticed by me until now. These bees will visit plants many times and swim around in the pollen making them an often sought after pollinator. And they are usually not aggressive unless threatened in some way which is nice when you are observing them as close as I was.
They are solitary bees about the size of a honeybee that do not create a hive. Instead they build nests of divided cells with each half inch sized leaf they cut. They look for natural or artificial cavities, the size of a pencil, like the holes found around our garden furniture or structures like my arbor. You might find them building a long line of cells in hollow stems which is one reason I try not to clean up my garden too much especially if I see activity in the area.
Each rolled leaf cell houses an egg with food. Once the egg hatches the larva eats the food, molts, spins a cocoon and finally emerges as an adult to mate, lay eggs and die. Of course they do a lot of pollinating in between the mating and laying eggs as the pollen is one of the food sources for the larva. Many newly hatched adult bees will overwinter, and emerge as spring warms by chewing through the protective covering on the nest.
Leafcutters prefer broadleaf deciduous plants most notably roses, azaleas, ash, redbud, crepe myrtles and any others with thin smooth leaves. Of these they really seem to prefer rose leaves which can make gardeners angry as they will take chunks from many leaves. You can see the damage on this plant although it was only an ash seedling so I was not alarmed. They say the cuts in the leaves will not harm the plant, but it sure doesn’t look very appealing.
The benefit of this bee’s pollinating far outweighs any damage to the look of the plant in my opinion. Those that have tried pesticides on the leaves have not deterred the bees. So why bother with harmful chemicals as they come and go so quickly, and I have lots of leaves to give them. If the plant is very prized, then use some sort of cheesecloth as a barrier when the bees are active. This actually has been shown to be effective as they will then move onto another plant. Of course nature will keep things in balance as parasitic wasps, flies, beetles and some ants will attack the nests of these bees keeping the number down.
The happiness of the bee and the dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and to wonder at it. ~Jacques Yves Cousteau
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