Leaf-cutter Bee Life Cycle

A surprise package

Some of the most interesting things happen in our beautiful wildlife gardens when we least expect them.  On this particular day my brother and mom were moving some bricks to build a new flower bed.  My mom found this odd-looking thing filling the gap between two bricks.  On closer inspection we realized it was made from pieces of clover leaves wrapped together.  Well, we can’t resist a mystery so we took it into the house and gently removed the leaves one at a time to see what they were concealing.

2 leaf cutter nest

A micro nursery

Once we peeled away the outside layer we discovered several individual chambers stacked end-to-end.  Each one contained a layer of pollen pressed tightly on the bottom with a single egg poking out the top.  Obviously we were dealing with some sort of bee.  Research showed that we had discovered the nest of a leaf-cutter bee, and that the pollen is mixed with nectar by the momma bee to make the food supply for the developing larvae.  It’s amazing that each perfect little cell is made solely from circular bits of leaves.

3 leaf cutter egg

A few days later the egg in each chamber hatched and the larvae emerged.

4 leaf cutter larva 5 leaf cutter larvae

Each of the “bee babies” had plenty of food to eat and reached maturity with some pollen mush left over.  It’s hard to believe by looking at them in this stage of development that they will soon become bees.

6 leaf cutter pupa 7 leaf cutter bee pupa

It was amazing to watch their transformation.  The eyes were the first features to become noticeable.

8 leaf cutter bee pupa

The legs and antennae were next to take shape.

9 leaf cutter pupa 10 leaf cutter pupa

And the wings were the last features to form.

11 leaf cutter

The resulting bee is so tiny!

12 leaf cutter bee

Mystery solved

For years I have wondered what sort of creature was making these round cut-outs in my plants.  I’ve never once caught them in the act.  But at least I know whenever I see these tell-tale signs, my yard is supporting the life cycle of such an important pollinator as the amazing leaf-cutter bee.

1 leaf cutter holes

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Comments

  1. Carole says

    What a wonderful discovery. The leaf-cutter bees I’ve noticed in my garden are much larger, about the size of a bumblebee. I’ll be watching out for these smaller ones.

  2. says

    FASCINATING! I’ve caught a glimpse of a leaf cutter bee in flight with a “green, round landing platform” underneath, but never thought to look around to experience the complete lifecycle. Thanks for sharing. Great photos!
    Loret recently posted..Scoliid Wasp (Scolia nobilitata)

  3. says

    Thank you for this wonderful journey! I know I have leaf-cutter bees. They seem to prefer rose leaves around here. I have even seen tiny bees that resemble that one in hand. Perhaps it is the leaf-cutter. I, too, have never seen them in the act. What an amazing transformation and I just love those nectar leaf wraps!

  4. says

    An excellent article detailing the stages of the leaf cutter bee. All I knew was that they were small and used the leaves to line their nests but had no idea one looked like what you found. When there’s holes in the leaves, you know there’s life in the garden!

    • says

      I LOVE your post about flowers in the lawn! Now I need to check to see if I have the native cinquefoil or the mock strawberry that is taking over a portion of my lawn here in Kentucky :)

    • says

      I watched one today gathering the silver “fur” off the leaves of pearly everlasting and packing it into a little ball before flying off with it. That will make for a cozy little nest :)

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