The narrowleafed milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis, beckons monarch butterflies (the host plant), aphids, praying mantids and assorted other insects, but once in a while, you'll see a leafcutter bee. Both the plant and the bee are natives.
This male bee (below) spent the afternoon patrolling for females, but it rested in between.
It's a dangerous place to rest when there's a predator (praying mantis) around, but all ended well.
Leafcutter bees, spp., so named because the females cut leaves and petals (perfectly round holes!) to line their nests, are smaller than honey bees--and much faster. They're easily recognizable by the black-white bands on their abdomen.
The females do all the work. They gather pollen and nectar, make the nests from the leaf and petal fragments, and lay eggs. They seal the egg chambers with the leaves or flower petals.
The male's job is to reproduce. And sometimes, you'll see one sunning itself on a milkweed leaf.
Of the 4000 bee species known in the United States, about 1600 reside in California. The leafcutter bee is just one of them. The family, Megachilidae, includes these leafcutting bees, Megachile angelarum, M. fidelis and M. montivaga; the alfalfa leafcutting bee, M. rotundata; the Mason bee, Osmia coloradensis; and the blue orchard bee (BOB), Osmia lignaria propinqua.
For more information on California's bees, read California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday), the work of UC-affiliated scientists,/span>
You've probably read the children's book, "Where's Waldo?"
Waldo wanders around the world, gets lost in the crowd or scenery, and it's your job to find him. Where'd he go?
If you have a praying mantis in your yard, you probably play "Where's Waldo?" a lot.
In our yard, it's "Walda." She's a gravid (pregnant) praying mantis and she never stays in one spot for long.
Camouflaged in the bushes, motionless, and deep in "prayer," she's a lost cause.
And then you see where she is. The Stagmomantis limbata. The bushes stir, and the next thing you know, she's gripping a bee in her spiked forelegs.
Right there. Right there.
Day 5 of National Pollinator Week: Meet the leafcutter bee, family Megachilidae.
It's a native pollinator, a solitary bee, and about the size of a honey bee.
Its coloration--the black-and-white banded abdomen--makes it easily recognizable.
As the name suggestions, they (the females) cut circular holes in leaves to line their nests for brood-rearing. Rosarians who enter their roses in competition aren't fond of them because of the "imperfections" in the leaves. A hole in one--or holes in many--aren't going to give them a whole lot of blue ribbons.
But having leafcutter bees in your garden is a joy. They're good pollinators and gentle bees. Leafcutter bees carry pollen on the underside of their abdomen, not on their hind legs like honey bees, do. Agriculturists manage the alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata) for crop pollination.
Leafcutter bees nest in natural cavities, mostly holes in soft wood or in hollow, pithy plant stems. You can also create bee condos or housing for them, drilling specific-sized holes in a block of wood.
We saw this little male Megachile foraging on Verbena. He paused for a few minutes and then took flight. Things to do and places to go...
Talented macro insect photographer Donna Sanders of Emerald, Queensland, Australia, captured this spectacular photo (below) of a female leafcutter bee carrying a leaf segment back to her nest, a cavity in a tree trunk. She posted it on the Australian Native Bee Network Facebook page, where it drew some 80 raves and 36 shares--and deservedly so.
You often see leafcutter bees in your garden, and you often see them in flight, but it's difficult to capture an image of a leafcutter bee in flight AND that's carrying a leaf segment. Her image reminds me of the 1880 painting, "Riding a Magic Carpet," by Viktor Vasnetsov.
This takes patience, persistence and skill. And it takes your breath away.
"We have lots of bee hotels around our yard," she told us. "This is just a section of a tree trunk with natural holes, probably from beetle boring."
How did she capture this image?
"I would sit there in the morning until late afternoon watching her carry pollen, then carry sections of leaf that she had cut out, back to her nest site. I did this over a couple of days sitting on my little stool, just waiting for her to fly toward the hole. It took many photos before I managed to get this shot, so when I checked it on the computer, I was so happy that I had finally captured what I have been aiming for."
Leafcutter bees, Megachile spp., so named because they cut leaves and petals to line their nests, are smaller than honey bees--and much faster. They're easily recognizable by the black-white bands on their abdomen.
Catching them in flight is a challenge.
In our own pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., we've watched these native bees maneuver around honey bees, wool carder bees, carpenter bees, butterflies and assorted spiders. It's an obstacle course, to be sure. We've watched them cut holes in leaves. Perfectly round holes.
Some Rosarians aren't fond of leafcutter bees because they cut holes in the leaves of their prize-winning roses. Our roses are a colorful part of our garden, but the pollinators take precedence!
If American poet Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) had elevated bees, especially leafcutter bees--to the status of roses ("a rose is a rose is a rose")--would she had penned: "A leafcutter bee is a leafcutter bee is a leafcutter bee?"
Or "A pollinator is a pollinator is a pollinator?"
Speaking of pollinators...
There's still time to register for the seventh annual International Pollinator Conference, set Wednesday, July 17 through Saturday, July 20 in the UC Davis Conference Center.
The conference, themed “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” will cover a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations. Topics discussed will include recent research advances in the biology and health of pollinators, and their policy implications, according to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology co-chairs, Neal M. Williams, professor of entomology, and Elina Lastro Niño, Extension apiculturist.
Keynote speakers are Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Pennsylvania State University, (the research center launched the annual pollinator conferences in 2012) and Lynn Dicks, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, England.
You can learn more about the conference--and register--on the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center website.
Images by three UC Davis-affiliated photographers will be among those displayed at the international Insect Salon photography competition at the Entomological Society of America's meeting, Nov. 11-14 in Vancouver, B.C.
The insect photographers: Alexander Nguyen, who submitted an image of a syprhid fly--a wasp mimic, Ceriana tridens, ovipositing in the fissures of a tree; Allan Jones, a photo of a female leafcutter bee, Megachile fidelis, carrying a leaf petal back to her nest; and Kathy Keatley Garvey, an image of a pollen-drenched honey bee, Apis mellifera, nectaring on mustard.
The images were among 122 accepted for the Insect Salon from a total of 333 images submitted by 84 photographers from 22 countries (a 37 percent acceptance rate).
Nguyen, who received his bachelor of science degree in entomology from UC Davis, is a biologist for the Solano County Department of Agriculture. He captured the image of the wasp mimic at Spanish Flat on the west bank of Lake Berryessa, Napa County. "After larvae hatch they will feed on sap from the tree," said Nguyen, who maintains a photography website at https://alexandernguyen.smugmug.com. Senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the California Department of Food and Agriculture identified the syrphid.
Jones, who holds bachelor's degrees in English and German and a master's degree in English from UC Davis, is a California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) retiree who now resides in Davis. He captured his winning image of the leafcutter bee in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden, operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. It shows the bee carrying a Clarkia petal back to her nest.
Kathy Keatley Garvey
Garvey, who holds degrees in communications and journalism from Washington State University, Pullman, is a communications specialist with the Department of Entomology and Nematology. She captured her winning image of the pollen-packing honey bee in a Vacaville (Calif.) mustard patch. In her leisure time, Garvey writes a Bug Squad blog, about insects and entomologists, on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website, a blog she has written every night, Monday through Friday, for the past 10 years.
Joseph Virbickis of the Peoria (Ill.) Camera Club, coordinator of Insect Salon, announced the medal winners, which included "best of show" and "best of Entomological Society of America photographers" and "best of Peoira Camera Club photographers":
- Medal, Best of Show: Soon Seng Leong of Malaysia, for his image, "Share Together 084."
- Medal, Best of ESA Members: Thomas Myers of Lexington, Ky., for his "Saddleback Caterpillars"
- Medal, Best by Peoria Camera Club: Carl Close of Hopewell, Ill., "Hornworm Caterpillar"
- Medal, Best Storytelling: Say Boon Foo of Malyasia, for "Ant 3"
- Medal, Most Unusual, Jenni Horsnell of Australia for "Wolf Spider with Young"
The winning entries will be displayed both on the Peoria Camera Club website and on screens at the annual meeting of ESA, a global organization of some 7000 members that serves the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines. This year's theme is "Sharing Insect Science Globally."
All photographers are invited to submit up to four entries in the annual Insect Salon competition, Virbickis said. This is a Photographic Society of America-sanctioned nature competition.