There’s always something on the menu in my garden. Last year it was grasshoppers dining on my plants. This year it’s … well I didn’t know what it was taking circle-shaped bites out of my rose leaves. So perfectly formed were the holes, I imagined a fairy with a scone cutter. But that’s just silly. Fairies don’t make scones.
But the mystery remained. What was turning my rose leaves into decorative doilys?
You may remember the Peace rose I bought this year in a fit of optimism for my rose growing ability? Well, I’ve had moderate success. So far the mould that’s dogged my previous rose growing attempts has not been an issue. I’ve even had a number of beautiful blooms.
But just a few days ago I noticed leaf damage – and it was most curious. After some digging around on the fertile ground of the net, it turns out the culprit may be a leaf cutter bee, genus Megachile
The Queensland museum says the particular nature of the leaf damage is a dead giveaway. The distinctive circular or oval shaped cut-outs are used by the female bees to make the cells to incubate their babies. Unlike the European honey bee, leaf cutters are solitary insects who build their nests in existing crevasses, hollowed twigs or even garden gloves. Rose leaves and gingers are favourites but they use a wide range of leaves. Having cut the piece of leaf, the female curls it beneath her body for transport, then sticks it together with saliva to create a cell in which to lay her eggs. Before she seals off the chamber, some nectar, pollen and saliva are added to feed the growing larva and then she is off again to build the next one. Sometimes as many as ten overlapping cells are formed in a row.
One day, I watched what I thought was a wasp crawling into the hollow bamboo of the trellis supporting my jasmine. I now suspect this was my leaf chomping culprit.
It seems one of the giveaway signs that the bees busy pollinating my garden are not the honey bee variety, is where they carry their pollen. While honey bees stow their cache on the corbicula part of the back legs, the leaf cutter carries hers on the scopa, or stiff hair like structures on her abdomen.
Leaf cutter bees don’t produce honey as such, nor are they aggressive, not stinging unless provoked. Even then the sting is not as painful as the honey bee. But they are super-pollinators, and friends of the gardener. They were responsible for the yield increase of alfalfa in the USA after being accidentally introduced in the 1940s from Asia (ref). Leaf cutters are different to honey bees, but as research reveals, no less useful or productive.
A lesson from my garden is the strength to be found in diversity. Each creature has a unique place, a purpose, a destiny to fulfil. We, as a whole are less, if just one no longer exists.
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Thanks to Shirley Woods and Erica Siegal for their excellent images of bee cutter bees on aussiebee.com