Leafcutter Bees — The Ultimate UK Guide

Leafcutter bees (Megachilidae) are a solitary type of bee and there are a total of seven species in this family within the United Kingdom.

If you have seen leaves with holes cut into them by little jaws, this is down to the female Leafcutter bees (Megachilidae) who use the pieces to build the cells in their nest. 

UK Leafcutter Bees

Though there are seven varieties of Leafcutter bees in the UK, two of the most popular throughout the UK are the Patchwork leafcutter bee (Megachile centuncularis) and Willughby’s leafcutter bee (Megachile willughbiella). The five other types are not so common but still roam around the UK. These are the Wood-carving leafcutter bee (Megachile ligniseca), Brown-footed leafcutter bee (Megachile versicolor), Coast leafcutter bee (Megachile maritima), Silvery leafcutter bee (Megachile leachella) and the Black-headed leafcutter bee (Megachile circumcincta). 

Let’s take a closer look at the physical appearance of each one and help with leafcutter bees UK identification. 

Patchwork leafcutter bee

The females are almost the same size as honey bees, with tan coloured hair around their thorax. Their most distinguishing feature is the insanely bright orange pollen brush, located under their abdomen.

Willughby’s leafcutter bee

Males of this species look like they are wearing cosy, winter mittens due to their oversized front basitarsi. The females don’t possess this fluffy look. Instead, they sport shadings of black, red and gold throughout their coat.

Wood-carving leafcutter bee

These guys are the biggest Leafcutter bee in the UK. The females have three colours on their scopa (gold, red and black). The males are easy to distinguish between the other species in the genus since they don’t have the enlarged front basitarsi. 

Brown-footed leafcutter bee

Both the males and females are pretty small, with the males being unidentifiable unless put under a microscope. However, the females display a red hue on their initial four segments which changes to black at the very end. 

Coast leafcutter bee

In many bee species, the males are smaller. However, they are of similar size to the females (around 9 to 10.5 mm) when it comes to Coast leafcutter bees. Typically, the males will have that stereotypical fluff on their forelegs. 

Silvery leafcutter bee

This type of Leafcutter bee is the smallest in the UK. If you get close enough, you will notice the gorgeous, distinguishing green eyes that the males sport. 

Black-headed leafcutter bee

As you might have guessed, these little guys have black hairs on the sides of heads. The blackness continues to their body and alternating stripes for both male and female castes. 

Where do Leafcutter Bees Live?

No matter the kind of Leafcutting bee, they all live in the same type of places. Usually, this will be in little holes made in the stems of plants, broken pieces of wood, ancient walls or cliffsides. Although you will see them in your garden, if you venture further out you are likely to find them flittering about in places full of wildlife such as woodlands, heathlands, farmlands and moorlands. 

You might be wondering where the leaves that the females chop up come in. Well, these discs are stuck together using their saliva so they can build cells within their nests for their larvae. 

When do Leafcutter Bees Hatch?

Typically, Leafcutter bees will hatch and grow after they have pupated in Autumn. Once the season rolls round to Winter, they will hibernate in their preconstructed leaf nest cells. Because they are a solitary type of bee, you won’t ever see them defending their nest as a honey bee or bumblebee would. 

As the days get warmer, they will chew their way through the leaf and out of the nest. If you are on the lookout for them, they are active in late Spring to late Summer.

What do Leafcutter Bees Eat?

When female Leafcutter bees build their nest, they leave some pollen in each cell for their larva to munch on. 

Each type of Leafcutter bee (Megachilidae) is a crucial pollinator of many crops including fruits, vegetables, other farm crops and wildflowers. In fact, they are so good at what they do that some working farms have “employed” them as pollinators for their blueberry crops. Although, it isn’t all varieties of Leafcutter bee that do this. 

How to Attract Leafcutter Bees

For Leafcutter bees (Megachilidae) to feel at home in your garden, you need to ensure you provide a welcoming environment. This will include giving them what most bees need: nesting site, building supplies, pollen, and nectar sources. 

If you know a thing or two about Leafcutter bees (Megachilidae), you will understand that the plants they use for constructing their nests aren’t the same they forage on. Ideally, you need to have both kinds of plants in your garden.

Your new leafcutter friends will love you for planting flowers such as English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) and mints (Mentha). They also love roses (Rosa) to build their nest cells out of (although many people get stressed that they are damaging these plants, but they aren’t).

Unfortunately, they require specific nesting habitats that they can struggle to find in a typical garden. Of course, there are ways that you can overcome this if you try.

You can buy bee hotels that are easy to put up in various corners of your plot. However, it is even more rewarding to make your own — and super simple too. 

Now you know all you ever need to about Leafcutter bees (Megachilidae), you can go out and create a perfect, friendly home for them! Always take care of our bees, we sure do need them.

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