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Leafcutter Bees: Why You Need Solitary Bees In Your Garden

by Helen
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Native bees, also known as solitary bees, are the super-pollinators of the garden! The vast majority of bee species live solitary lifestyles.  While honey bees have their place in their own right. These gentle solitary bees, such as mason bees and leafcutter bees, also known as leafcutting bees, respectively, are critical to pollinating food and flowers. Learn more about these extraordinary heroes of pollination! As a gardener, I aim to attract leafcutting bees to my yard.  After I failed to attract mason or leafcutter bees to my garden I ordered some from Crown Bees including bee houses, mud, reeds and all necessary accessories needed.  Learn how to raise solitary bees in your backyard.

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Leafcutter Bees Life Cycle and Habitat

How to Identify Leafcutter Bees!

Leafcutter bees are black and furry. They are also about the same size as honey bees but will usually be oval-shaped with golden-yellow colors and brown bands. You can identify a leaf-cutter bee by how the female gathers and transports pollen in the hairlike furry structures underneath her abdomen instead of in “baskets” on the hind legs; a female leaf-cutter's abdomen may appear powdery yellow or golden from the pollen.

Leafcutter Bees

Solitary Bees: Are The Heroes of Pollination

Most of us know and learn about the sophisticated social structures of honey bees and bumblebees, and we've come to believe that their lifestyle represents the behavior of all bees. Although the world is home to over 20,000 bee species, 90% of these bees do not live together in hives.

What's fascinating is most of the world's bees are solitary. By this, we mean they live alone. Unlike social bees like honey bees, as solitary bees, leaf-cutter bees live alone, not in colonies with a queen. Each leafcutting female bee builds her own nest to raise her brood.  

She has to collect pollen and nectar, build nests, and lay eggs on her own without the aid of hundreds or thousands of hard workers. Although honey bees typically get all the glory for keeping our food crops going, native solitary bees are the workhorses of pollinating, almost two to three times more effective!

How to Attract Leafcutter Bees to Your Garden

Leafcutter bees are among the most important pollinators of native wildflowers,  and squash, peas, melons, and other summer favorite fruits and vegetables. Farmers use them to pollinate crops such as blueberries, onions, carrots, and alfalfa.

What To Plant In The Fall

Life Cycle

Most solitary bees, as adults, have very short lifespans. For example, Male mason bees only fly about for a couple of weeks—just long enough to mate—and the females only live about 30 days. With such a brief adult lifespan, solitary bees must use their time wisely!

They do not have enough time to make honey or prefer not to fly too far from home, meaning they spend most of their time prepping their nests and pollinating flowers within a relatively small area. Many solitary bee lives are spent in their mother's nesting site, hibernating over winter months in their cocoons.

Leafcutter House
image: Crown Bees

Provide Backyard Bee Houses

Many reports suggest that nearly 40% of bees today are facing extinction, leaving many of us wondering what we can do to help. Fortunately, one of the best and easiest things you can do is start local in your backyard. Making your vegetable or flower garden as bee-friendly as doable is as effortless as adding things like planting native wildflowers and installing native bee nesting sites, including bee houses.  Build a bee house with your kids.


Solitary Bee

Therefore if 90% of bees don't live in hives with other bees, where do they live? About 70% of solitary bee species tend to nest underground in burrows and tunnels, while the remaining 30% of wild bees (solitary bees) nest aboveground in holes found in logs, branches and stems.

Like birdhouses, bee houses or “bee hotels” provide essential and otherwise missing nesting habitat. They are relatively simple, consisting of a birdhouse-like structure holding a series of exposed, reed-like tubes where the bees can lay their eggs, avoiding using bamboo tubes. Hole-nesting bees are in desperate need and searching for appropriate nesting sites, at times nesting in the ends of old garden hose nozzles, the hollow endings of wind chimes, or openings in metal garden furniture. Properly constructed bee houses provide a more natural structure for the bees and allow for human assistance when needed.

These bee houses can be a focal point and piece for conversation in your garden.

Bee houses must be maintained and managed annually, or they'll become uninhabitable. Keeping a bee house is pretty simple: Remove the bee–cocoon–filled nesting materials and store them in a cool, sheltered place over winter-like indoors. 

In early spring, remove the cocoons from the old materials and place them in your new in your bee house. The newly emerged bee generation will get right to work. An even trade for pollinating our favorite fruits and vegetables, a little housekeeping and cleaning is the least we can do for them!

Solitary Bees

Hole-Nesting Bees

Two of the most popular hole-nesting bee species are crop pollination are alfalfa leafcutter bees and blue mason bees. Leafcutter and blue mason bee species will nest in pre-made holes in the wild, such as old grub tunnels, broken branches, and crevices in peeling bark. As suggested by the names, leafcutter bees use round pieces of leaves to build their nests, while mason bees use clay or mud. In comparison, other common types of hole-nesting bees, such as carpenter bees and sweat bees, prefer to create their own holes in the ground, reeds, logs, or the dead canes of raspberry bushes. 

Solitary Bee Pests and Diseases

Like any other creature, hole-nesting bees are susceptible to several pests, diseases, and predators. There are three greatest threats that these bees face such as:

  • pollen mites (they eat the bee larvae's food supply before the bee can), ants, 
  • chalkbrood (a fungal infection that converts an area of the larva into fungal spores), and 
  • parasitic wasps (gnat-sized wasps that will lay eggs inside of healthy larvae).

Harvest cocoons and separate the healthy ones from infected nesting chambers to reduce and prevent the spreading of pests and diseases in bee houses. You'll learn how to identify infected chambers and keep healthy cocoons safe by harvesting cocoons.

Do Leafcutter Bees Cause Damage To Gardens?

Many species of leafcutter bees chew circular pieces from smooth and thin leaves of plants which they use to build nests, but they don't feed on the leaves. Although the holes in leaves can be unsightly, the plant is seldom damaged. Insecticides are neither effective nor recommended nor effective for this insect.

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