A Guide to the Leafcutter Bee
When you think of solitary bees, the mason bee likely comes to mind first, but I find the leafcutter bee equally or even more interesting. Leafcutter bees are quite common across the US. They are wonderful pollinators, pollinating crops such as blueberries, onions, carrots, and alfalfa.
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What is a Leafcutter Bee?
Leafcutter bees are solitary bees that are known for cutting circular pieces of leaves to construct their nests. They are very gentle and rarely sting, and are excellent pollinators.
They differ from honey bees in that they live and work alone, not in a colony. Instead, the leafcutter bee lives in tubular cavities that she lines with leaves in which to create her brood chamber. There, she will lay one egg per chamber and provide pollen for the larva to eat when it emerges.
She will continue to construct chambers until the cavity is filled. In the spring, the larvae will have matured and will then chew through the chamber walls to exit the nest.
Leafcutter bees are around the same size as honey bees. The head of the leafcutter bee is quite large and they have a triangular shaped abdomen. Male leafcutter bees are smaller than females and have longer antennae.
Benefits of Leafcutter Bees
The main benefit of leafcutter bees is pollination. Leafcutter bees are excellent pollinators. While honey bees carry pollen on their legs, leafcutter bees carry pollen on the bottom of their abdomen. This means that pollen easily falls off to pollinate plants.
These bees are often used for commercial pollination, pollinating many crops of farmers. Leafcutter bees are also great to have in your own garden. They’ll pollinate your own fruit and vegetable gardens.
Leafcutter bees are very gentle and docile. They will rarely sting. That’s why they are great for home gardens as they are family and pet safe.
Easy to Care for
Caring for leafcutter bees is easy and doesn’t cost a lot of money. All you need to do is set up a bee house with the proper sized nesting holes (more on that below).
How to Care for Leafcutter Bees
In order to thrive, leafcutter bees need the following:
- 6 mm sized nesting holes
- Temperature of 75°F in the daytime (minimal)
- Leaves for building cocoons
- Chemical free garden with flowers that bloom in the summer, providing pollen and nectar
- Leaves for their nest – hosta, dahlia, beans, strawberries, roses, and peas make great nesting material
- A clean source of fresh water
Set Up Your Bee House
Bees use the warmth of the morning sun to get going. Take advantage of this by placing your bee house south to southeast facing. You also want the house to get ample afternoon shade, especially in hot locations.
Walls, trees, and fences are good locations to set up a bee house. Be sure to secure it well because bees do not like houses that move or swing around. Also, make sure that your bee house is close to a source of pollen and nectar.
A good height to place a bee house is about 5 feet off the ground. That will keep the bees away from predators, and is also a good height for observing them.
Leafcutter bees use nesting holes to lay their eggs in. Their preferred nesting hole size will have a 6 mm diameter opening. When placing the nesting holes in your bee house, make sure that they are of good quality. Nesting materials should be clean and replaced every year.
Place one nesting hole for each cocoon you plan to hatch. The open end should be facing outwards and the tube should be pushed against the back of the house. If you are concerned about birds, wire or cloth with ¾ inch openings may be loosely placed around the outside of the house.
Leafcutter Bee Cocoons
Now it’s time to release your leafcutter cocoons, or put them into the house. The cocoons do not need to be placed in the nesting holes. Once they emerge, they will find a nesting hole on their own.
Leafcutter bee cocoons may be released when:
- Daytime temperatures are consistently at least 75°F
- You have flowering plants with open blooms
To release the cocoons, place them in the bee house, on top of the nesting tubes. Be sure that they are out of direct sunlight. With the correct temperature, the bees will emerge in 1-10 days. If it is colder, it can take up to 3 weeks.
Now is the fun part. Your leafcutter bees will mate and then choose a nesting hole. You will be able to observe the bees flying to and from the bee house, carrying pollen and leaves.
Be patient, as it sometimes takes a couple of weeks for the bees to get settled. You’ll know that a bee has used a nesting hole when you see that the end has been capped.
Fall and Winter
During the fall and winter, leafcutter bee larvae will hibernate inside of their cocoons. You can keep them safe from predators by removing the nesting materials from the bee house and placing them in a fine mesh bag.
Keep nesting tubes stored with the capped end up in an unheated storage shed or in your garage. Leafcutter bee cocoons may be harvested during early spring.
Where to Find Leafcutter Bees for Sale
You can find leafcutter bees for sale online. They aren’t sold the same way honey bees are, rather, you will buy leafcutter bee cocoons. There are a few different websites that sell them, but I’ve had good success buying leafcutter bee cocoons from Crown Bees.
Because leafcutter bees must be released in the summer, Crown Bees ships the cocoons between May and August. Ordering online is easy – all you have to do is select your shipping date.
Remember, you want to choose a shipping date closest to when your summer garden has bloomed and when the daytime weather is consistently 75 F. Leafcutter bee cocoons have a 3 week incubation period, which is done by Crown Bees. Therefore, to ensure that you get your cocoons on time, place your order at least 3 weeks before your desired shipping date.
If you will not be home when the cocoons are delivered, Crown Bees offers doorstep delivery. This will make sure that your bee cocoons are not kept in a hot mailbox. The cost of leafcutter bees for sale is very reasonable. One package contains 200 cocoons and shipping is included.
I also like that at Crown Bees you can get a bee house kit and bee cocoons together. It’s a fast and easy way to get started in raising leafcutter bees.
Leafcutter bees are gentle solitary bees that are great pollinators. They get their name from the way they cut pieces of leaves to construct their brood chamber. You can find leafcutter bees for sale online at crownbees.com.