Bee surprise.

While trying to stake The Most Infuriating Plant in My Garden™ this morning (more about that in another post), I came across this:

Leafcutter bees on thermopsis

This is my Thermopsis lanceolata (syn. T. lupinoides) , and I’m not upset in the least that it’s been chewed up that way. I just wish I could find the little guys that did it, so I could watch them either at work or in their nesting site! 🙂 Bees in general have been making themselves pretty scarce around here this summer, but I have never seen evidence of leafcutter bees in my garden until now.

Leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.) are a type of solitary bee.  There are about 140 species of leafcutters in North America. Apparently they have a hankering for legume blossoms, which would explain why they were attracted to my Thermopsis, except that it failed to flower again this year (I seriously can’t figure this plant out – it’s definitely taking its own sweet time to “establish”). Leafcutters munch out half circles of leaves to use in their nests, which may be found in the cavities of trees or fallen logs, or in hollow plant stems.

I read an interesting article at Pollination Canada that described how the alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata) was introduced in Canada in the 1960s in order to resurrect the alfalfa industry. Apparently all the land that was cleared for agriculture in the country in the early twentieth century had destroyed the habitat of solitary bees, and as honeybees can’t properly pollinate alfalfa (because they’re thieves and have no attention spans), growers were desperate for a solution to their pollination problems. Alfalfa leafcutter bees were brought in from Europe, and were highly successful.

Do you have solitary bees in your garden? Do you help them out by offering places to nest?

For more reading, check out this post about the Domestication of the Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee at Pollination Canada.


  1. Fascinating…a lesson in solitary bees, about which I knew nothing before. I will now keep a lookout for them. Of course I have lots of other holes in leaves, probably due to the not so glamorous or likable Japanese Beetle (and the dreaded non-native, invasive stinkbug.)

  2. I have seen the same evidence of leafcutter bees in my garden for a few years now . They love the peony leaves! A neighbour has actually caught one in the act. Apparently they are very quick at cutting out the pieces they want! In our first flat we also watched solitary bees making holes in the concrete balcony wall… they must be pretty strong!

    • Wow, that’s incredible – you’d think they would try to bore holes in something that offers a little less resistance! 🙂 Determination wins the day, I guess!

      I am really hoping to see one making those little leaf slices…preferably at a time when I have my video camera with me! 😉

  3. Hey Sheryl, fascinating story! Never heard of these leaf cutting bees before and I will look out for them. What I do in my garden to give pollinating insects a chance to nest is, make a pile of branches and leave the cutting of hollow stemmed flowers and grasses until it warms up in spring. Apparently the latter important in particular for solitaire bees to survive winter too. have a lovely Sunday, ♥ Johanna

    • Those are all great ideas, Johanna! I think I should follow your example and gather some hollow-stemmed reeds to place in the garden…now that I know the bees are nearby, I should help them out as much as I can.

      Hope you had a wonderful weekend!

  4. I don’t know my bees as much as I’d like, but I can tell you we have tons of bumblebees, and they are solitary. We don’t have any bee nesting stuff, though, so they just have to fend for themselves.

  5. Yes, I have leafcutters in my garden and I never mind the damaged leaves, it doesn’t seem to damage the plants and I am always happy to see signs of bees; like you though I’ve never seen the actual bees.

  6. Very interesting indeed, thank you for this post. We too have solitary bees and they have plenty of nesting oportunities. My roses look a bit scrumpy because of all the holes ;). A lot less “ordinary” bees though this year which makes me wonder…

    • It is a bit disturbing…I haven’t seen very many butterflies, either. Judging by what people are saying on blogs around the world, it’s like that everywhere.

      It’s wonderful that your garden is a haven for solitary bees – at least they don’t harm the plants by making holes! 🙂

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