Over the summer, our mint went wild and so did its blooms which gave the kids and I a chance to really check out some bees. I purposely did not trim them down because we just enjoyed our pollinators too much.
In the meanwhile, we learned a few things!
For instance, how to ID a leafcutter bee.
These guys have mandibles and an ability to sip nectar. AND unlike other bees, they carry the pollen on their bellies. How cool is that! I mentioned these facts to my 6 year old and she apparently already knew all about the belly fuzz – way before I came along with my big mouth. Hooray!
The female leafcutter bee carries pollen on the underside of her hairy abdomen, and then scrapes the pollen off within her individual nesting hole. Pollen is carried loose and dry on her hair and it falls off easily as she moves among blossoms. Alfalfa leafcutter bees do not mind being hit on the head as the alfalfa flower’s keel is tripped open and this characteristic is what made them the darling of alfalfa fields. Although they are named after alfalfa, these bees are generalists that will visit many different kinds of flowers. Leafcutter bees have a short flying range of only 300 feet from their bee house and you can be sure they are busy at work nearby in your garden or field. Leafcutter bees are active in the warm summer months and they are perfect for pollinating squash, melons, cucumbers, peas and other summer vegetables and fruits.-The Honeybee Conservancy, www.thehoneybeeconservancy.org/why-bees/leafcutter-bees/
They are solitary bees, so they require those mandibles to cut away tiny circular pieces of leaves and flower petals to line their little tubes of a nest for their babies (do not worry – they do no harm to the plants). The mothers mainly rear a single baby all on their own, mostly in a tunnel dug into dry soil. They are not aggressive at all, and I can speak firsthand as my children played around them all day.
Alas these bees only visited our mint for about a week before they disappeared and the western honeybees appeared in their numbers. Another mystery of nature! (Or should I sadly say attack of a neighbor’s pesticides?) Yet another reason not to spray the ground, or your yard in general – you might be destroying a single mom’s home.
Buzzaboutbees.net offers a great discussion on the leafcutter bee with videos of it in action, it’s nests, detailed photos, Q&A’s, and more!
Leafcutter bees are increasingly recognised for their farm crop pollination service. In fact, the US Agricultural Research Service state that 1 alfalfa leafcutter bee can do the job of 20 honey bees! Surprisingly, in research, they discovered that about 150 of these little bees working in greenhouses (or similar) can provide the pollination service of 3,000 honey bees (1).–The Leafcutter Bee,
Check out this awesome Texas Butterfly Ranch article on solitary bees sleeping in spent flower heads: https://texasbutterflyranch.com/2019/07/31/flower-bed-works-overtime-as-overnight-bachelor-pad-for-solitary-bees/
I’m sure glad I didn’t crop our remaining coreopsis flower heads – they made beautiful hiding places for all the tiny insects hanging around.
The Texas Butterfly Ranch article features local researcher and author John L. Neff – check out his recent publication on solitary bees from Princeton University Press!
And if you want to support mason and other solitary bees alike, try out one of these houses – they should have depth, be located in the shade, hopefully within 300 feet of your garden, and have a rooftop awning far out enough to keep moisture from entering the tubes too easily.
And for kicks, here is a shot of a leafcutter bee I took outside the Natural History Museum of Utah (www.nhmu.utah.edu), enthusiastically pointing it out to the kids who were like, “Yeah, mom.” “Cool, mom.” I guess they’ve gotten their share of pollinator exposure this summer. But, bees!
Check out this article written about the museum for the New York Times – it really is a wonderful place to visit if you ever get the chance.