For 3 years now I've had leaf cutter bees nesting in tubes in my garden. I've had 2-3 bees nesting each year, but this year, there at least 5 different females building nest chambers. One has even moved on from the tubes and nested in a nearby wall cavity., as things were getting a bit crowded and tempers were flaring! The most common leaf cutter species in the UK is megachile centuncularis
The bees use cuttings of leaves (hence the common name) to make compartments in the tubes, laying an egg and leaving a food source before sealing up the compartments and ultimately filling the tube. Like most solitary bees, the male is laid last to hatch first, a few days before the females emerge, and they mate, and the process starts all over again each year.
The nest box:
The box is made up of a 30-40 bamboo tubes of the same length but differing diameters. There are many nest boxes on the market at very reasonable prices, but they all do the same job. This box has added holes in the wooden base to attract other insects to nest.
The roof section is a nice feature as it shelters the bees from any weather as they seal up the last parts of the nest chambers and close the tube.
It is recommended to have a good food source for the bees near the nest site (within a few metres), and I've used lavender as a source of food since having the bees nest. They can bee seen throughout the day feeding and gathering pollen to leave in the nest compartments.
Once a tube has been finished and sealed up, they may well start another nest tube if the circumstances are right. Although solitary bees, they do like to nest close to each other which is why multiple bees will use the nest tubes together, although fights will inevitably break out when one bee inadvertently enters the nest tube of another. And as mentioned before they will also nest in wall cavities and old drill holes.
The females are easily spotted by the orange abdomen where they store pollen as opposed to the normal pollen "baskets" of other solitary and bumblebees.
Why attract leaf cutters?
Leaf cutter bees are great for gardens and gardeners alike. They are an important pollinator for plants, and when found in decent numbers can out-pollinate the honey bee in some circumstances. In the US, the alfalfa leaf cutter bee is used by farmers to pollinate the plants and only 20 bees concentrated in one area can do the work of 3000 honey bees!
Like all wild bees the leaf cutter is in decline - and you can help the leaf cutter by putting up a nest box, or making your own - and giving this wonderful little bee a safe place to nest in your garden.
About this blog:
Photographic adventures from from behind the DGPix Wildlife & Nature Photography lens!