Saturday, August 7, 2010

Leaf Cutter Bee

It’s interesting how quickly something new can become the most conspicuous item in the landscape. This cute little bee is suddenly everywhere at Blue Jay Barrens. It’s not very big, but I believe it’s the loudest bee I have ever encountered. It can be heard clearly from a distance of 12 to 15 feet. As I started down the trail, I could hear these guys in all directions.

These are Leaf Cutter Bees and they look as though someone smashed them flat with a fly swatter. There was no time wasted on a flower visit. The bees would land, do a quick circle around the flower head and then move on. They reminded me very much of a military vertical ascent vehicle as they lifted straight up from a flower, proceeded in level flight to the next objective and dropped straight down onto a flower.

Leaf Cutter Bees are the ones that cut those neat circular bits from the leaves of some of our favorite plants. They use the plant bits to line and separate larval chambers in their nest burrows. Since these bees just suddenly showed up in large numbers, I’m wondering if the local leaves will soon be showing signs of their work. This specimen is of the genus Megachile, but I don’t have the proper references to assign a species name. I know we have both native and non-native species of this bee in Ohio, so I'll have to do some research to see which this is.

The body is almost hairless on top, but becomes quite shaggy underneath. It might seem an odd arrangement, but that hairy belly has a special purpose.

The shaggy abdomen is the primary pollen collection device on this bee. This fellow is carrying a heavy load of yellow pollen. It looks to me to be a wonderful pollination mechanism. That pollen laden mat is drug over 15 to 20 flowers every minute. With that kind of action going on, these flowers can’t help but produce abundant seed.


  1. Very interesting. When I was hiking along a barren beach a couple of weeks ago, I observed a similar bee carrying a large chunk of leaf fly down and wiggle it's way underneath a rock laying on the shore but way up from the average high tide line. When you say they line their burrows, I'm assuming they live underground? ~karen

  2. Great shots of the Leaf Cutter bees. I haven't seen as many as usual this year, but I probably just wasn't looking at the right time.

  3. Karen - Some Leaf-cutter Bees make underground burrows for their nests. Others will use hollow stems or abandoned tunnels bored into wood.

    Thanks, Marvin. We must have had a synchronized emergence here. One day there were none and the next there were bees everywhere.

  4. LOVE the Leaf cutter photos and info. Fabulous. I'll be looking for them now that I know what they are.

  5. Thanks, Robin. I hope you see some.

  6. Awesome photos Steve! Love the mid-air bee.