Before you spray me for slicing up your roses, there’s something you should know.
I know the life of a bee must seem strange to you. But we have more in common than you think. Like many of you, we leaf-cutters have only one partner in our lives. Please, before I die, let me tell you about mine.
His eyes were a beautiful pistachio green, his hair a ruffled sunset of hay. He moved his feet so gently over my own eyes, I knew there and then he was the one for me. Too soon the blossoms fade, as did he, but if you will let me leave behind eight precious symbols of our joining, I will be grateful.
You see the crescent cuts in your rose leaves, and I am sorry. But you will never see me wound anything else. Rotten wood, concrete holes, even the shell of a vanished snail – I can call any and all of these places home and bring life to their emptiness. It may not look like it, but I promise I create more than I destroy.
I am afraid. Perhaps you’re unmoved by the life of an insect. But it’s not only my life.
The splayed and glorious sun of St John’s Wort, which I hear can lift many a human heart, and the crumpled purple satin of sweet peas are just some of the places that turn my belly dusty with pollen. I visit them and countless other blooms, helping the silent speak and spread their seed, doing the work of 20 honeybees at once, and gathering gold dust to make loaves. Did you know we leaf-cutters make “bread” too?
Yes – in the safety of my tunnel, I take pollen, nectar, and my own mouth dew to prepare a special “bee loaf”. It takes more pollen trips than I have legs for, but when all is ready, I lay one of our symbols on it. I then say a silent farewell, and seal up its den with a curved slice of rose leaf. Again, I am sorry.
Back and forth I will go, helping the flowers meet, until all eight precious symbols have enough homemade bread and a snug leaf sanctuary, one in front of the other. If our summer is long, our children might break free, find love, and visit even more flowers before the days darken again. If not, they will wait for the first blooms to arrive, the precious loaf keeping them alive. As for me, when my final symbol is laid, I will make one last den of my own, and grant myself peace after so much frenzy. I won’t live to see the lives I helped create, be they bee or flower.
You will have your roses again next year, I hope. All I can do to make it up to you is help them and other beautiful flower heads stay as bright as my mate’s eyes once were.
Latin: The genus name is Megachile, and there are about 2,645 species worldwide!
What? Solitary bee that cuts up leaves to make nest cells for its eggs. If you’re a bug-liking badass, you can see a picture of an alfalfa leaf-cutter bee, Megachile rotundata, here.
For everyone else, here’s another insect in a, dare I say it, fetching little hat:
Where? Worldwide, in woods, suburban areas, even tropical jungles!
How big? Usually around the size of a honeybee, from 5 mm-24 mm / 0.2-0.9 inches long
Endangered? Not per se, although pesticides and climate change can spell their doom.
Probable motto: I help more flowers than I hurt.
They sound…interesting. Do they need my help at all?
Bees are generally in trouble thanks to an unholy swarm of pesticides and climate change. Leaf-cutters help take the pollinator pressure off of honeybees, as well as sometimes being better at it! The alfalfa apparently saved the alfalfa seed industry from plummeting in the 1940s, and is used today as a commercial pollinator in parts of the US.
The Honeybee Conservancy also looks out for these and other little buzzers.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing:
Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. No date. “Leaf-cutter bee“. Britannica.com.
“Leafcutter bee“. 2018. Australian Museum.
“The leafcutter bee“. No date. Buzzaboutbees.net
“Leafcutters bees“. No date. Honeybee Conservancy.
“Leaf-cutting bees“. No date. RHS.
“Leafcutter bees-harmless, useful and often neglected pollinator“. 2011. Nurturing Nature.
Marinho, Diego et al. 2018. “Nesting biology of three Megachile (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae) species from Eastern Amazonia, Brazil“. Revista Brasileira de Entomologia 62(2):97-106.
Moisset, Beatriz. No date. “Leaf cutting bees (Megachile spp.)“. USDA.
O’Neill, Ruth, and O’Neill, Kevin. 2010. “Pollen load composition and size in the leafcutting bee Megachile rotundata L. (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae)“. Apidologie 42(2):223-233.
Rex, Suzanne. 2016. “Making a home for leaf-cutter bees“. Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
Serrano, David. 2005. “Leaf-cutting bees“. University of Florida.
“Solitary bees“. No date. Urbanbees.co.uk
Featured image credit: Engin_Akyurt, via Pixabay