Leaf cutter bees - FramesOfNature
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Leaf cutter bees

Leaf cutter bees

Mention of the word ‘Bees’, brings to mind, those huge swarms of buzzing insects living in a very well established social setup. Building huge colonies, consisting of thousands of individuals.

However, very recently did I learn that, not all bees live in colonies, meaning, live in a social group of many individuals. There are bees that live a very solitary life. One such, are the bees, belonging to the Megachilidae family, more commonly known as the leaf cutter bees. They are called so, based on the kind of material they use to prepare their nest cells, namely, small pieces of leaves. There are others in this family,like the mason bees, which collect soil as the material for their nest cells.

From Leaf cutter Bees – Quick Facts

Leaf cutter bees are very important as pollinators.They are not aggressive and have a mild sting that is used only when they are handled.They cut the leaves of plants and use the cut leaf fragments to form nest cells.  They nest in soft, rotted wood or in the stems of large, pithy plants, such as roses.

One leaf cutter bee individual had made its home inside a small crevice, in an old rusted gate of an empty site near my house. It was constantly flying to and from its new found home, each time returning with a small piece of something that looked like a fragment of a leaf. Curious about what it was up to, sat there observing it for a while, over one of the weekends. Did a bit of reading on them as well.

The crevice was more like an entrance to, what I felt, was a long tunnel inside the frame of the gate. Before flying out to fetch a leaf, the bee, very diligently, would clear the place of small stones, sand and other debris. Then, it would fly out, returning after a while, with a small piece of a leaf.

Leaf-cutter-bee-06-LArrives home with a leaf fragment….

It would enter its home with the leaf and get into the tunnel that it had cleared just before leaving. Since it was holding on to the leaf with its mandibles, it seemed that it wasn’t very easy for the bee to turn the leaf around to align it properly with the entrance to its tunnel home. So, for the initial few times, it used to fly out of the crevice and fly back in at the right angle to be able enter properly.

Leaf-cutter-bee-01-LFlies out, to come back in, at an appropriate angle….

Slowly, it seemed to have learned and thereafter was getting inside very smoothly, with one flight, straight in.

Leaf-cutter-bee-02-LEnters now with one straight flight in…..

This bee wasn’t really going too far to look for its leaf requirements. It had picked a tree close by, to cut out the pieces of leaf from. Was very skilfully cutting out the leaf using its mandibles. It seemed to be flying around the tree looking for the right leaf ( don’t know what the criteria for selection was ) and upon finding one, was making a very precise cut each time.

Leaf-cutter-bee-03-LCutting out a leaf with its mandibles….

An interesting fact about the bee’s leaf cutting exercise …… ( Src: Our Native Bees )

They cut the leaves with their scissor-like mandibles, making smooth, circular or oval cuts from the edges of leaves that are about 1/2″ in diameter.  According to The Xerces Society, it only takes two or three seconds for the female to cut a piece of leaf.  Just before she finishes cutting it, the female starts to beat her wings, so she is already flying by the time the leaf fragment is severed

The cut out designer leaves, thus remain, on the tree…., but don’t in any way harm it.

Leaf-cutter-bee-leaves-05-LCut out leaf sections…


Also, read that these pieces of the leaf that are carried into the bee’s home are used to embellish its nest cells and also to separate the individual cells. These cells would then contain one egg each, along with a little bit of nectar and pollen to provide for the larvae that would hatch out of the egg. The females of these bees are the ones that do all the work.

It takes an average of 15 leaf pieces or flower petals to line one brood cell, and a total of 20 to 30 trips may be required to gather the necessary pollen and nectar to provision just one cell.  Under favorable conditions a female bee may finish an average of 30 cells in her lifetime. ( Src: Our Native Bees )

Really hard working mothers, these leaf cutter bees, are indeed………….

  • Rana & Sugandhi
    Posted at 18:04h, 08 October Reply


    • Santhosh
      Posted at 09:30h, 09 October Reply

      indeed.. :-) … Thank you…

  • Anisha
    Posted at 20:04h, 08 October Reply

    Amazing pictures as always!

    It would be interesting to see its nest built out of leaves.

    • Santhosh
      Posted at 09:20h, 09 October Reply

      Thanks Anisha… Yeah, would love to. In this case though, it was very much into the metal frame.. :( However, have seen images on the web as to how it uses the leaf fragments….

  • Deepa Mohan
    Posted at 20:38h, 08 October Reply

    Thank you for the informative post and excellent pics.

    • Santhosh
      Posted at 09:20h, 09 October Reply

      Thanks a lot Deepa…

  • Poornima Kannan
    Posted at 21:56h, 08 October Reply

    I have always wondered about symmetrical cuts on leaves , had heard about the leaf cutter bees.
    Thanks for sharing an interesting account on these insects.

    • Santhosh
      Posted at 09:20h, 09 October Reply

      Thanks Poornima….

  • Ramya
    Posted at 11:31h, 09 October Reply

    Interesting post. Got me curious about the role of the male bee and read that they die soon after they mate. Hard-working single mother bees indeed! TFS.

    • Santhosh
      Posted at 11:55h, 09 October Reply

      Thanks Ramya…You are right, the single bee mothers do have a lot of work at hand…. :) ..

  • Vijay Krishna
    Posted at 14:17h, 09 October Reply

    Interesting and enjoyable post as always! TFS…just wondering what tree it is…leaves looks like that of a Cassia. Can you confirm?

    • Santhosh
      Posted at 17:13h, 09 October Reply

      Thanks Vijay… It is a yellow peacock flower tree as far as I know… :)

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  • Shailja
    Posted at 13:56h, 17 July Reply

    Does this bee also use bougainvillea petals for creating its nest?

    • Santhosh
      Posted at 09:46h, 18 July Reply

      Hi Shailaja, Yes, they do. They cut out bougainvillea leaves to built their nest too.

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