Leaf-cutting bees

Leaf-cutting bees are solitary bees that use leaf sections to make nests. They are useful pollinators and any damage to plants can be tolerated.

Leaf cutter bee damage on false acacia

Leaf cutter bee damage on false acacia

Quick facts

Common name Leaf-cutting bees
Latin name Megachile species
Distribution Widespread
Food Nectar and pollen 

What are leaf-cutting bees?

There are seven species of leaf-cutting bees in the UK. They have a wingspan of 8-14mm and are dark brown bees covered in lighter brown or orange hairs.

Leaf-cutting bees are solitary bees, the females of which use leaf pieces to construct cells within their nests. They are active from late spring to late summer. The nest site may be a naturally occurring tunnel, such as a hollow plant stem, or it may make a tunnel for itself in rotten wood or dryish soil. Inside the nest the leaf pieces are manipulated to form a thimble-like structure, which is then provisioned with a mixture of nectar and pollen. When sufficient food has been gathered the female bee lays a single egg on the stored food and then proceeds to cap the cell with circular pieces of leaf. This process is repeated until the nest may contain about 20 leaf cells.

Symptoms

The female bee uses her jaws to cut a section of leaf from the foliage of plants, in gardens often roses, and then flies back to the nest site with the piece of leaf slung between her legs. In some cases many leaves on a plant can be damaged, however, this does not usually affect the health of the plant.

As well as in dry plant stems and cavities in wood, some species will use ‘bee hotels’ and nests are sometimes found in other places such as dry soil in plant pots and in wall cavities.

Control

It is not necessary to control leaf-cutting bees. They are useful pollinators and the leaf damage caused during the collection of nest material does not usually affect the vigour of plants.


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