The leafcutter bee is an efficient alfalfa pollinator

Sep 12, 2019

The hard work put in every summer by leafcutter bees was spotlighted by KQED Science, which took a Deep Look at an introduced pollinator that makes bountiful alfalfa seed production possible in California.

For facts behind the 'gee whiz' video, KQED turned to Shannon Mueller, UC Cooperative Extension alfalfa advisor emeritus, who helped introduce leafcutter bees in the early 1990s.

What makes leafcutter bees special? It's their innate ability to 'trip' alfalfa flowers, which is beautifully explained and shown - in slow motion - in the Deep Look video.

Cutters were “game changers” in the alfalfa seed business because they're much better at pollinating alfalfa than honeybees, Mueller said. Cutters trip 80 percent of flowers they visit, compared to honeybees, which only trip about 10 percent.

Leafcutting bees pollinate alfalfa, allowing the plants to form seeds. The seeds will be grown to make nutritious hay for dairy cows, giving credit to leafcutter bees' for their labor on the first step to making ice cream.

By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist