About a month ago I had the pleasure of talking with Dave Hunter, owner and founder of Crown Bees, a company that “advocates for, raises, and sells hole-nesting bees that pollinate significantly better than the honeybee.” Dave is very enthusiastic about helping pollinators and has a wealth of knowledge about these important insects. He was so passionate about sharing this information that he generously sent me one of Crown Bee ’s best bee raising kits, the BeeWorks Chalet for me to review, and share my experience with you. I will also be receiving live mason bee cocoons and leafcutter bee cocoons later in the season.
It’s still too cold in Michigan for me to set up the Chalet, but in the meantime, I’ve been learning as much as I can about solitary, cavity-nesting bees so I can be successful in helping these pollinators, and also, so I can take you all along for the experience.
In this post I’d like to introduce you to the leafcutter bee by discussing its behavior, personality, habitat, and hopefully convince you to support native pollinators in your area.
The leafcutter bee is much like the mason bee in behavior. They are solitary bees which mean they don’t live in colonies like honeybees. The females will mate with a drone, then find a nest and raise her brood alone.
Leafcutter bees are also a gentle bee. Only the females have stingers and they will only sting if injured or aggravated by rough handling. In many species, the stinger is too thin to penetrate human skin.
The leafcutter bee is an excellent pollinator. Unlike honeybees who carry pollen in neat and tidy pollen baskets packed on their legs, the leafcutter collects pollen on its abdomen. This larger area of pollen carry and less contained way of carrying the pollen makes for better pollination as the bee moves from flower to flower.
The most well-known leafcutter bee is perhaps the alfalfa leafcutter. This bee was almost single-handedly responsible for increasing alfalfa production in the US. In the middle of the last century, agricultural advancements allowed farmers the ability to plant large areas of alfalfa. However, there were not enough native pollinators to pollinate the fields and create alfalfa seeds for the following year. The alfalfa leafcutter bee was introduced from Europe and was able to solve the problem.
Reproduction and brooding young
Like the mason bee, the leafcutter bee raises its larva in a tube-shaped home and separates each larva in a cell. Mason bees use mud to create cell divisions within the nesting cavity, but the leafcutter bee cuts an almost perfect ½” circle in a leaf and wraps their young in a leaf blanket. Within the package, the female stores a loaf of pollen and nectar for food as the larva grows.
Different species of leafcutter prefer different plant material but in general, they like smooth broadleaf deciduous leaves. They are also known to use petals and resin to help construct their cavities.
Some of the favorite leafcutting bee plants are roses, azaleas, ash, and redbud. While the holes in the leaves may not look very pleasing, the damage usually doesn’t harm the plant.
Leafcutter bees emerge somewhat late in the year when the temperatures reach the high 70’s or 80’s. Unlike the honeybee, they forage somewhat close to home, looking for pollen and nectar only 300 feet from the nest.
The female leafcutter bee likes to set up a nest in small tube-shaped cavities. Hollow stems, reeds, holes in the siding of houses, all make great nesting sites. Mining bees, a close relative of the leafcutter bee, will make its home in holes in the ground.
The nesting site needs to be out of the elements, especially rain.
If you’d like to set up an ideal home for leafcutting bees in your yarn and help native pollinators in your area then visit Crown Bees and view their many designs of Tube-nesting bee homes.