Discover the Fascinating World of Leaf Cutter Bees: Everything You Need to Know


If you are interested in further exploring the fascinating world of bees, then the leaf cutter bees are a must-learn topic. These cooler weather bees are known for their unique nesting and pollinating habits. Unlike honeybees, they do not live in colonies but are solitary nesters. Leaf cutters are one of the most effective pollinators, especially for crops like blueberries. They never visit the same flower twice, ensuring effective cross-pollination.

Leaf cutter bees get their name from the way they cut leaves to build their nests. The females meticulously cut leaf sections to line their nests, which can be placed in different materials such as wooden blocks, reeds, or even hollow stems. Each nest typically contains five to seven cells, where the female places an egg and provisions it with a pollen and nectar mixture. The cells are then sealed off with a leaf-cutting plug.

The leaf-cutting bees are available for purchase and can be used in managed pollination systems. These bees can be ordered in large numbers and released in the field during the pollinating period. They are known to be more effective than honeybees in pollinating certain crops like alfalfa and blueberries. The cost of ordering leaf-cutters can be higher than honeybees, but the benefits in terms of pollination and honey production make them a worthwhile investment.

One of the main advantages of using leaf cutter bees is their ability to pollinate crops in windy conditions. With their stout-bodied nature and metallic blue appearance, they can withstand stronger winds compared to honeybees. Their preference for smaller, tubular flowers also makes them especially effective in pollinating early-season flowers like apple and cherry blossoms.

If you decide to introduce leaf cutter bees to your farm or garden, there are a few recommendations to keep in mind. It is important to provide suitable nesting materials such as wooden blocks or reeds. These nests should be placed above the ground, facing the southeast direction, to provide the bees with the warmth they need. Leaf cutters also require a breeding area, which can be an incubator or a leaf-cutting housing system. Finally, ensuring the availability of flowers that bloom throughout the leaf-cutting period is essential to support the bees’ pollination needs.

In conclusion, leaf cutter bees are an interesting and effective alternative to honeybees when it comes to pollinating crops. Their unique nesting habits, solitary nature, and ability to withstand windy conditions make them a valuable addition to any pollination management system. Learning about these fascinating insects and implementing their presence in your field or garden can greatly enhance the aesthetics and productivity of your environment.

Cooperative Extension Maine Wild Blueberries

Leaf cutter bees (family Megachilidae) are found on many blueberry farms in Maine, including those in Manitoba and above. These bees are known for their unique way of handling leaves to build their nests and rear their young. Leaf cutter bees never use soil to make their nests like other bees, and they do not live in colonies.

Leaf cutter bees begin by developing small cavities within either tree or shrub stems. They leave several plants above ground, using the leaves they cut to build their nests. Leaf cutter bees stock their nests with a sheet of leaf material and then build a small cocoon within the cavity. Mating typically occurs within the nest, and the females lay eggs within the cocoon. After mating and egg-laying are complete, the females seal the nest using more leaf material.

One of the reasons leaf cutter bees are found on blueberry farms is because they are efficient pollinators of blueberry flowers. They are also effective at pollinating other crops and plants. Leaf cutter bees are capable of visiting hundreds of flowers a day. They are active during the warmer months and can be found in high numbers during blueberry bloom.

The biology and habitat of leaf cutter bees make them less susceptible to common enemies and pests. They can handle cooler temperatures and strong winds, which is why they are found in Maine, a state known for its harsh winter weather. Leaf cutter bees have a unique nesting cycle that allows them to spend the colder months in a dormant state within their cocoons.

Leaf cutter bees are a great example of the importance of pollinators in agriculture systems, and the Cooperative Extension in Maine recognizes their significance in the wild blueberry industry. They provide thin sheet materials, like those used by leaf cutter bees, for growers to use in creating bee habitats to promote populations of these beneficial insects. They also offer resources on how to order leaf cutter bees for use in pollination cycles.

Bees Leaf cutter bees
Family Megachilidae
Found Maine wild blueberries, including farms in Manitoba and above
Handling Handling leaves to build nests
Plants Leave several plants above ground
Stocking Stocking nests with a sheet of leaf material
Cavity Building small cavities in tree or shrub stems
Females Females lay eggs within cocoons
Rearing Rearing young within the nest
Mating Mating typically occurs within the nest
Enemies Leaf cutter bees have fewer enemies due to their unique nesting cycle and biology
Why Efficient pollinators
How Visiting hundreds of flowers a day
Examples Metallic blue bees
Size Approximately 3/4 inch long
Final Final cocoon has a thin silk lining
Habitat Build nests using leaf materials, back of thin leaves, or similar structures
Biology Leaf cutter bees spend the winter months dormant within their cocoons
Blueberries Found on blueberry farms in Maine
Mason Mason bees are another type of solitary bee found on blueberry farms
Cycle Leaf cutter bee life cycle is spent within the cocoon
Distribution Leaf cutter bees are found in various regions and countries
300 How many eggs a female leaf cutter bee can lay in her lifetime
Ordering Cooperative Extension provides resources on how to order leaf cutter bees for pollination
Pests Leaf cutter bees are less susceptible to common pests
Pollination Leaf cutter bees are efficient pollinators of blueberry flowers
Size Leaf cutter bees are approximately 3/4 inch long

300-How to Manage Alfalfa Leafcutting Bees for Wild Blueberry Production

Alfalfa leafcutting bees (Megachile rotundata) are native to North America and are excellent pollinators for a variety of crops, including wild blueberries. Managing these bees properly can increase pollination rates and ultimately lead to higher fruit production.

The lifecycle of the alfalfa leafcutting bee starts with the emergence of the adult bees in early spring. The bees are small, about half an inch long, and are black with bands of white hair on their abdomen. They have a similar appearance to honeybees, but can be easily distinguished by their nesting habits.

Alfalfa leafcutting bees are solitary insects and do not live in colonies like honeybees. Instead, they build nests in pre-existing holes or cavities, such as wooden shelters or hollow plant stems. These nests are made by the female bees, who cut small circular pieces of leaves to line the inside of each cell. They also use this cut foliage to create a partition between each of their larvae.

Managing alfalfa leafcutting bees for wild blueberry production starts with the proper selection of bees and the establishment of suitable nesting sites. The bees can be ordered from commercial bee suppliers, including Some Company, Inc., who sell bee development kits that include an incubator. These kits provide the necessary tools to raise and manage leafcutting bees for field use.

It is important to provide suitable nesting sites for the bees. Wooden shelters or specially designed nest boards can be used to attract the bees. These shelters should be placed in the vicinity of blueberry fields, preferably in an open area with good exposure to sunlight and protection from strong winds.

The bees will emerge from their nests and start searching for suitable flowers to collect pollen and nectar. Wild blueberry blooms are highly attractive to these bees because of the high concentration of nectar and pollen they provide. The bees will fly from flower to flower, collecting pollen on their bodies and transferring it to other flowers, thus facilitating pollination.

After collecting enough pollen and nectar, the bees will return to their nests and deposit the resources in the cells they have prepared. The female bees will lay a single egg on top of the pollen/nectar mixture in each cell. They will then create a cap of cut leaves to seal the cell, providing protection for the developing larvae within.

The larvae will hatch from the eggs and feed on the pollen/nectar mixture left by their mother. They will go through several molting stages, growing and developing until they are fully grown. The pupae will then spin a cocoon and enter the pupal stage, where they will transform into adult bees. The adults will remain in the cocoons until the following spring, when they will emerge and repeat the lifecycle.

Managing alfalfa leafcutting bees for wild blueberry production involves providing suitable nesting sites, ensuring the availability of flowers for foraging, and protecting the nests from potential pests and predators. It is also important to monitor the population of leafcutting bees and their activity in the field.

If you are interested in learning more about managing leafcutting bees for wild blueberry production, there are resources available from the University of Manitoba’s Stephen H. Stubbs International Bee Research Centre. They offer information sheets and publications on the biology and management of leafcutting bees.

To get started with managing alfalfa leafcutting bees for wild blueberry production, you can contact Some Company, Inc. at 1-800-990-1390 to inquire about ordering bee development kits and other supplies.

Step 1 Ordering Bees and Equipment

When it comes to learning about leaf cutter bees, one of the first steps you’ll need to take is ordering the necessary bees and equipment. Leaf cutter bees, also known as the Megachilidae family of bees, are excellent pollinators and can be a great addition to any garden or orchard. They are native to North America and can be found in many parts of the United States.

There are several suppliers who can provide both leaf cutter bees and the equipment you’ll need to manage them. One popular supplier is Crown Bees, which offers a wide range of resources and information for anyone interested in leaf cutter bees. Another supplier is Bee Native, which specializes in native bees and provides a wide variety of options for managing leaf cutter bees.

When ordering your leaf cutter bees, you’ll typically have the option to choose between different sizes and quantities. The size of the bee can vary, but they are usually smaller than a honeybee. Leaf cutter bees typically come in sets of 6 or more, depending on your needs and the size of your garden or orchard.

In addition to the bees themselves, you’ll also need to stock up on other equipment. This may include wooden nesting systems, such as solitary bee houses or canes, which provide a place for the leaf cutter bees to lay their eggs. You may also need an incubator if you plan to further manage the leaf cutter bee cycle.

Leaf cutter bees are known for their distinctive behavior of cutting leaf pieces to line their nests. This cutting behavior is why they are called leaf cutter bees. The leaves they use can either be from alfalfa, roses, or other plants they find suitable. They use their mandibles to cut the leaves into the ideal size for their nest cells and then carry them back to their nest.

Leaf cutter bees are excellent pollinators and are known to be very efficient at their job. They are active in late spring and throughout the summer, foraging for both nectar and pollen. Their main diet consists of flower nectar, but they also collect pollen to feed their larvae.

One benefit of having leaf cutter bees in your garden is their ability to pollinate within a specific radius. Bees that forage within one acre can pollinate a two-acre area, making them an ideal choice for pollinating smaller gardens or orchards. Unlike honeybees, leaf cutter bees are solitary bees and do not form colonies.

Leaf cutter bees can be a great addition to a garden or orchard, both for their pollination services and for their fascinating behavior. However, it’s important to note that like any insect, leaf cutter bees can also be susceptible to pests and diseases. It’s important to follow proper bee handling and management practices to prevent any issues. Suppliers like Crown Bees and Bee Native can provide further information on preventing pests and diseases.

In conclusion, ordering leaf cutter bees and the necessary equipment is the first step in welcoming these beneficial insects to your garden. By providing the right environment and resources, you can create a suitable habitat for leaf cutter bees and enjoy the benefits of their pollination services.

✿ Read More: Gardening Tips and Advice.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.