Create Your Garden

Leafcutter Bee

Leafcutting Bee, Genus Megachile

leafcutter bee, leafcutter bees

Leafcutter bees (Genus Megachile) are a group of native bees known for their unique behavior of cutting circular and oval shapes from leaves to construct their nests. These fascinating creatures are beneficial to gardens and essential pollinators for many plants. Unlike honey bees, they do not make honey.

Where to Find Leafcutter Bees?

Leafcutter bees are found in various habitats, from meadows to gardens and urban areas. They are particularly common in North America but can be found worldwide.

What Does a Leafcutter Bee Look Like?

A leafcutter bee is distinguishable by its unique appearance. Typically, they measure between 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length. They have a black to dark brown body, often with a metallic sheen.

Unlike honey bees, leafcutter bees carry pollen on the hairs located on the underside of their abdomen, which can give them a “fuzzy-bellied” appearance when loaded with pollen. This distinguishing feature is that many bees carry pollen on their hind legs. The bees’ wings are membranous and typically darker at the tips.

They have strong mandibles, which they use effectively to cut leaves for their nests.

leafcutter beCloseup of a male leafcutter bee, Megachile ericetorum

Life Cycle

The life cycle of the leafcutter bee is fascinating and somewhat distinct from other bee species. Here’s a breakdown of their life cycle:

Egg Stage:

  • After mating, the female leafcutter bee starts to cut pieces of leaves or petals, which she uses to build a nest. This nest is often in cavities, cracks, or specifically designed bee houses.
  • She then deposits an egg on a provision of pollen and nectar and seals off the chamber with leaf pieces, creating a protective cocoon-like structure. She continues this process, creating several chambers within a single nest tunnel.

Larval Stage:

  • Once the egg hatches, the larva begins to eat the pollen and nectar provision left by the mother.
  • After consuming all the provisions, the larva spins a cocoon around itself where it will pupate. This stage is usually spent over winter.

Pupal Stage:

  • Inside the cocoon, the larva undergoes metamorphosis to become an adult bee. This transformation occurs in the pupal stage.
  • Depending on environmental conditions and the specific species, the pupal stage can last for several weeks or extend through the winter months.

Adult Stage:

  • Once metamorphosis is complete, the adult bee emerges from the cocoon.
  • Male leafcutter bees typically emerge first and await the females. After mating, the males usually die shortly afterward.
  • The females then start the cycle all over again, collecting pollen and nectar, laying eggs, and constructing leafy cocoons for the next generation.
  • Adult leafcutter bees generally live for about 1-2 months. Their primary roles are reproduction and foraging for the next generation.

One interesting aspect of leafcutter bees is that they are solitary, meaning they don’t live in large colonies like honey bees. Each female is responsible for her own nest and provisions. While they may nest near each other in a suitable nesting site, they don’t have a social structure with queens and workers. This unique life cycle and solitary behavior make leafcutter bees an essential part of many ecosystems and beneficial for gardens and agriculture.

Are Leafcutter Bees Endangered?

While leafcutter bees, as a group, are not endangered, habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change may impact local populations.

Why a Beneficial Insect?

Leafcutter bees are considered beneficial insects for several reasons:

Efficient Pollinators: They are highly efficient pollinators. They are crucial in pollinating wildflowers and summer crops like squash, melons, and peas. They also aid in fertilizing blueberries, onions, carrots, and alfalfa, making them invaluable to farmers.

Diversity in Pollination: They pollinate a diverse range of plants, ensuring that various plant species are able to reproduce and thrive.

Non-Aggressive: Leafcutter bees are solitary and don’t have a colony or queen to defend, making them less aggressive than other bee species. They might sting if directly threatened, but their sting is milder and less painful than a honey bee’s.

Natural Pest Control: By ensuring efficient pollination of flowering plants, they help increase the number of plants that can provide habitat or food sources for other beneficial insects that act as natural pest controllers.

Economic Importance: Their pollination services are vital for many crops. In certain regions, farmers use them to ensure the pollination of their crops, especially for seeds.

Low Maintenance: Unlike honey bees, leafcutter bees don’t produce honey and thus don’t require hive management. They are low-maintenance pollinators, perfect for home gardens and commercial crops alike.

Eco-friendly Nesting Habits: Their unique nesting habits, cutting leaves to form nests, don’t harm plants. The small round cutouts they make on the edges of leaves don’t cause significant damage and are a sign of their beneficial presence.

In essence, the presence of leafcutter bees in gardens, farms, and natural habitats ensures biodiversity, enhances crop yields and maintains the health of ecosystems.

How to Attract this Beneficial Insect to Your Garden

Attracting leafcutter bees to your garden requires providing them with suitable habitats, food sources, and nesting materials. Here are some steps you can take to make your garden inviting for these beneficial pollinators:

Provide Food Sources: Plant a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the growing season to ensure a continuous food supply. Leafcutter bees are especially attracted to legumes, sunflowers, and other native plants. Opt for single, open-faced flowers, which are easier for bees to access.

Avoid Pesticides: Chemical pesticides can be harmful or even lethal to beneficial insects. If you must use them, opt for organic or natural solutions and apply them during times when bees are less active, like early morning or late evening.

Offer Nesting Sites: Leafcutter bees nest in pre-existing holes, so provide bee houses or nesting blocks made of untreated wood with holes of various diameters (especially around 1/4 inch). You can purchase these or make your own. Place the bee houses in a location protected from direct rain and strong winds, preferably facing the morning sun.

Provide Leafy Materials: These bees use leaf pieces to construct their nests. Planting a variety of shrubs and herbaceous plants ensures they have adequate leaf material. They particularly like roses, ash, and lilac leaves, but will use many other types as well.

Provide a Water Source: Like all bees, leafcutter bees need water. A shallow dish with some stones or marbles for them to land on (to prevent drowning) can serve as a good water source.

Maintain Natural Areas: Leaving a section of your garden wild or undisturbed can offer excellent nesting sites and attract a variety of beneficial insects.

Practice Diversity in Planting: A garden with a diverse range of plants will attract a broader spectrum of pollinators. This increases the chances of attracting leafcutter bees.

By making these simple changes and accommodations in your garden, you can attract and support leafcutter bees, ensuring a thriving and productive environment.

Plants that Attract Leafcutter Bees

Helianthus annuus (Common Sunflower)
Pisum sativum (Pea)
Fagopyrum esculentum (Buckwheat)
Cosmos Flowers
Lavandula angustifolia (English Lavender)
Monarda (Bee Balm)
Aster novi-belgii (New York Aster)
Aster novae-angliae (New England Aster)
Sedum (Stonecrop)
Rosa (Rose)
Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)
Echinacea (Coneflower)
Syringa vulgaris (Common Lilac)
Hosta (Plantain Lily)
Azalea and Rhododendron

Discover Other Beneficial Insects

While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Related Items

Please Login to Proceed

You Have Reached The Free Limit, Please Subscribe to Proceed

Subscribe to Gardenia

To create additional collections, you must be a paid member of Gardenia
  • Add as many plants as you wish
  • Create and save up to 25 garden collections
Become a Member

Plant Added Successfully

You have Reached Your Limit

To add more plants, you must be a paid member of our site Become a Member

Update Your Credit
Card Information


Create a New Collection

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

    You have been subscribed successfully


    Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

    Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

    Join now and start creating your dream garden!


    Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

    Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

    Join now and start creating your dream garden!

    Find your Hardiness Zone

    Find your Heat Zone

    Find your Climate Zone