Is the leaf cutter bee beneficial or a pest in your garden?

The leaf cutter bee is new to me, but apparently it’s been around for a long time! This is the first year I’ve ever noticed this particular kind of damage to the leaves of any of my plants.

Is the leaf cutter bee beneficial or a pest in your garden?

Leaf cutter bee damage.

Thanks to my friend, the Mumbai Balcony Gardener, who lives in India, and has obviously had some experience with them, I found out what was causing the peculiar patterns on my bean leaves. I didn’t know the Mumbai Balcony Gardener until I started using Google + and joined the Small Space Gardener’s community. That’s one of the places where she hangs out. She always has loads of interesting things to share. She’s got some great videos to share as well.

So, I’ve been diligently researching my subject on the web and found out some interesting characteristics of the leaf cutter bee that make it invaluable as a pollinator. Yes, we should be inviting the leaf cutter bee into our gardens! For pictures of this bee, go to Arkive. There are some beautiful images on that site.

I have yet to lay eyes on her myself, unless this picture is her. What do you think? It’s a poor image, but I was considering myself lucky to get that!

Is the leaf cutter bee beneficial or a pest in your garden?

Leaf cutter bee or parasitic wasp?

The Leaf Cutter Bee (Megachile rotundata)

Social Habits

Leaf cutter bees are solitary creatures that prefer their own company to the company of others. They don’t form colonies as other bees do, therefore they pose little threat to humans. They won’t harm you unless you handle them, and even then, they only sting as a last resort. It’s reported to be much less painful than other bee stings. In any case, they prefer to bite, since they’ve got such great teeth. The very teeth they use to saw off chunks of leaves on your precious roses, or in my case, beans!

Nesting Habits

Leaf cutter bees make their nests from the semicular pieces of greenery they meticulously chew off your plants. The carry them off to their nesting site closely tucked under their bellies. The site could be any long tubular object. They use the leaves to form long tubular cells in which the females deposit their eggs. There could be more than one cell in each long tube, from my understanding of the process.

This practice of leaf cutting leaves your plants looking rather half-dressed. It may look bad, but it doesn’t kill the plant. So they say. And so it is, because my beans are climbing the poles in a way that makes me think of Jack in the Beanstalk!

Is the leaf cutter bee beneficial or a pest in your garden?

My beans are growing like beans do, despite the damage by the bee.

You can help attract the beneficial bee to your garden by constructing simple boards with holes drilled into them as seen on Permaculture News. To prevent predators from entering the nesting site from behind, cover the back with felt so they can’t get in.

Feeding Habits

Leaf cutter bees primarily feed on nectar and pollen which is why it’s been introduced in some parts of the world to pollinate crops such as alfalfa, carrots and other food crops grown for their seed.

You should invite them into your garden for the same reason, to pollinate your crops, the ones that need pollinating, that is. Besides providing them with suitable homes, they need lots of nectar rich flowers to feast on as well. And of course, they need leaves to cut to make their nests.

I’ve grown rather endeared to the wee creature since reading about it and seeing pictures of it carrying off it’s leaf cutting under between it’s legs. The leaf cutter bee is highly beneficial in my books. I love all bees and I’m glad to meet another one, one that is harmless to me, even if she likes to rob me of pieces of my plants!

Do you have any experiences with the leaf cutter bee?

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