|A female leafcutter bee collecting pollen. Image courtesy of Jim McCulloch.|
This article is excerpted from Leaf Cutting Bees (Megachile spp.) by Beatriz Moisset, USDA Forest Service.
There are about 242 species of Megachile bees or leaf cutting bees in North America. They belong to a larger group that includes also other leaf cutting as well as mason bees; these are all very good pollinators with very interesting habits.
|A female megachile bee working over a purple coneflower (Echinacea sp.). Image courtesy of Laura Duncan.|
The mother megachile bee brings pollen to the nest and some nectar in her crop. She kneads the mixture into a bee loaf, adding some of her saliva, which may contain antibacterial and fungicidal substances. It takes many loads to build up a bee loaf large enough to feed one grub from egg to mature size. She diligently visits numerous flowers on her quest to gather the necessary pollen and nectar. When there is enough food, she lays an egg on top. Then she seals that small chamber with chewed up leaves. If you notice nearly perfect round holes in the leaves of your rose bushes, do not begrudge them that little material that they need to raise their families. She repeats this process of making bee loaves, laying eggs and building partitions until the entire nest hole is full. Then, she builds a final, thicker wall. Shortly afterwards she dies.
The next generation feeds on the pollen and nectar bee loaf, grows, and metamorphoses into an adult that remains dormant until the next spring when it chews its way out, mates and is ready to start the circle of life all over again.
In addition to all the native Megachile bees there are a few non-native ones such as the alfalfa leaf cutting bee (Megachile rotundata) which was introduced intentionally to pollinate alfalfa and the giant resin bee (Megachile sculpturalis), which arrived from Asia in recent years; no one knows how.