I am constantly learning new things about nature – even in my own backyard. Today I saw a strange looking mass of leaves sitting near my plumeria that looked like no inflorescence or leaf structure that I have ever seen before. I searched all around the plumeria thinking maybe the mass came from it, but I was pretty sure it did not. A pair of Anna’s hummingbirds whizzed by my head and that was enough to distract me from further inquiry into the suspicious leaf mass.
A few minutes pass, my attention no longer occupied by the hummingbirds, and I notice something moving around at the end of the tube of leaves. So I examine it a little bit closer. There’s a bee nearly all the way inside the tube. Oh, so it must be some sort of flower structure and it’s foraging for nectar. But what kind of flower is it? I have a degree in plant biology and I still thought it must be a flower! After all, why would a bee be bothering with leaves – they don’t contain nectar or pollen.
Then things start clicking. Neurons fire. Gears turn. I had heard of leafcutter bees before and have seen the perfectly cut-out circles they leave behind on my plants, but never once did I think to ask what the bees did with the pieces of leaves they cut off. I guess I thought they just ate them. Some scientist, huh?
Well it turns out (after a little Google foraging of my own) that they use the leaves to build these nests. This nest just happened to be out in the open when normally they build them in underground holes or between rocks or holes in wood. In each individual cell of the nest they lay one egg, then seal that cell up with a leaf piece, lay another egg then seal it up again. They repeat this until they have a nest that contains several eggs and is a few inches long.
Leafcutter bees are not like the typical social honeybees one normally associates with bees, but are solitary. That much I already knew. However what I didn’t know is that you can help attract leafcutter bees by drilling 1/4″ holes 1 to 2 inches into a piece of wood. Just make sure you don’t drill all the way through the wood (they like to have the single entry/exit hole) and don’t drill the holes so that water can get inside if it rains (drill them angled slightly downward). In the video above you can actually hear me drilling holes into some old pieces of palo verde wood I had laying around.
They are not aggressive bees and although they do have a stinger, they won’t use it unless it is being seriously antagonized. So there’s no need to fear leafcutter bees. Actually there’s no need to fear any bees, even social species, unless you happen to disturb their hive. They’re pretty much harmless when they are foraging since they are so focused on obtaining nectar. I’ve actually touched honeybees several times when they’re foraging and have yet to be stung. So I hope that dispels any fear of bees.
I love having bees around my house, as long as they don’t build hives on the house itself where it can damage the structure. They are vital for pollinating our food crops – my garden plants in particular. So if you can help it, don’t harm bees, we need them.
Well, I hope those that have read this learned something new today, because I definitely did. That’s one of my favorite things about nature – you don’t have to go far to find it – it’s everywhere. And it always has something new to teach you.