Leaf cutter bees are native pollinators in North America. The cutter bee belongs to the family Megachilidae. These bees have a unique way of nesting.

Leaf cutter bugs cut leaves to build nests in different cavities, mostly rotting wood. Each nest has several cells and contains a single larva with pollen to eat.

Leaf cutter bees are vital for pollinating wildflowers, fruits, vegetables, and other crops.

Some species, like those in the genus Osmia, are even used commercially to pollinate crops such as alfalfa and blueberries.

leaf cutter

Distribution

Leaf cutter bees are found all over the world. They are common in North America. In Florida, there are about 63 different species and five subspecies.

These bees belong to seven genera: Ashmeadiella, Heriades, Hoplitis, Coelioxys, Lithurgus, Megachile, and Osmia.

This wide distribution shows that they can adapt to various environments.

Description

Most leafcutter bees are moderately sized. They are around the size of a honey bee, ranging from 5 mm to 24 mm. These bees have stout, black bodies.

Female leafcutter bees, except for the parasitic Coelioxys, carry pollen on hairs under their abdomen, not on their hind legs like other bees. When carrying pollen, the underside of the abdomen looks light yellow to deep gold.

Biology

 
SpeciesScientific NameSize RangePollen-Carrying BehaviorNesting Habits 
AshmeadiellaAshmeadiella speciesSmallUnderside of abdomenSoil, plant stems 
HeriadesHeriades speciesSmallUnderside of abdomenPlant stems, old beetle burrows 
HoplitisHoplitis speciesSmall to mediumUnderside of abdomenPlant stems, old beetle burrows 
CoelioxysCoelioxys speciesMediumNot applicableKleptoparasitic, nests in other bee nests 
LithurgusLithurgus speciesMediumUnderside of abdomenDead wood, plant stems 
MegachileMegachile speciesMediumUnderside of abdomenHoles in wood, other materials 
OsmiaOsmia speciesSmall to mediumUnderside of abdomenPre-existing holes 

Leafcutter bees get their name by cutting circular pieces from leaves, about 0.25 to 0.5 inches wide.

They use these leaf pieces to build nests. The nests look like cigars and have several cells. Each cell contains a ball or loaf of pollen and a single egg. Each cell produces one adult bee.

leaf cutter bee

These bees build nests in various places: in soil, holes in wood, plant stems, dead snail shells, and even in holes in concrete walls. Most leafcutter bees spend the winter as newly formed adults inside their nests.

In the spring, they chew their way out. Leafcutter bees are solitary and do not form large colonies.

They do not aggressively defend their nests like honey bees. Their sting is less painful than a honey bee’s, and they only sting if handled.

Host Plants

Leafcutter bees are crucial for pollinating many wildflowers, fruits, and vegetables. Commercial growers use them to pollinate blueberries, onions, carrots, and alfalfa.

These bees use leaves from nearly any broadleaf deciduous plant to build their nests. They often cut circles from ornamental plants such as roses, azaleas, ash, redbud, and bougainvillea.

This can reduce the aesthetic value of these plants, but it rarely causes serious harm.

Natural Enemies

Leafcutter bees have several natural enemies. Many parasitoids attack their nests, including certain flies, wasps from the Chrysididae and Mutillidae families, and beetles from the Rhipiphoridae, Meloidae, and Cleridae families.

The genus Coelioxys within the leafcutter bee family are kleptoparasites. They lay their eggs in the nests of other leafcutter bees.

Their larvae consume the stored pollen. Ants, such as those from the genus Crematogaster, also attack leafcutter bee nests.

cutter bee

Management Recommendations

Leafcutter bees can be seen as pests because they cut leaves from ornamental plants.

This leaf-cutting usually does not harm the plants beyond aesthetics. Insecticides are generally ineffective since leafcutter bees do not eat the leaves.

Physical barriers like cheesecloth can protect plants when leaf-cutting is first observed. Reducing nesting sites can also lower the number of leafcutter bees.

Filling small holes in rotting wood or sealing hollow plant stems with wax, thumbtacks, or white glue can prevent them from nesting.

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agecutter does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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