This year’s bees emerging.

Just a little update to show you what’s happening with the leaf-cutter bees at the moment.

I think the bees are a little later than usual this year, but they have finally been hatching out over the past week. On the left is a bee coming out of its tube, while on the right is a newly-hatched bee resting before it flies away. Now if you are wondering why the tube is sitting there on a plant pot rather than in the usual bee house here’s the reason. There were not as many tubes in total sealed last year as usual (only about ten), and almost half of those had not hatched at all by this week, which seems to me to be very late. So I decided to take a look to see what was happening inside the tubes.

I took a sharp stanley knife and gently scraped away the first few discs of leaves and discovered that one of the tubes had in fact become infected with mites, which you can see in the below left picture. All the bees in that tube had died or never made it to adulthood. I removed these cells by cutting into the cardboard tube. A second tube had a dead bee in its early stages of life in the first cell. I removed this cell and then, in quick succession, the other bees came out. I managed to photograph and video some of this. I think they must have been queueing up to escape and were wondering what was happening ahead in the tube, as usually the bees will spend several minutes resting and cleaning themselves before they come out, but these seemed more than ready to fly away. I have often wondered what happens if the first few bees in the nest die, because it seems to me that the ones back in the tube would never get out.

Another thing I’ve done this year is to remove the paper lining from inside the cardboard tubes, which the bees really don’t like (above centre). Pictures in earlier posts show you the bees clearing these out themselves. I don’t know whether the paper smells oddly or what it is they don’t like about it. I also found that the manufacturers had used glue to attach the paper to the plastic end plugs which seal up the rear of the tubes. So they’ve gone too, and I think the bees will seal the far end of the tubes themselves. So above right you can see what the bee houses look like today.

A result of my fiddling with some of the empty nests allows me to show you some shots of how the cells are put together by the bees. Especially interesting to me was the way they cut two different shapes out of the leaves in order to make their cells: circular pieces to seal the ends of the cell (they use several of these, possibly as many as ten to make a little plug, below right), and a more elongated shape, which they use to form the sides of the cells:

So today I think will see the hatching of the final leaf-cutters for this year, and there is a male already buzzing around the houses waiting to mate, so hopefully I’ll get some nesting this year. Finally, here’s the video. It takes the bee a little while to come out, mainly because I’m thumping around on the decking and it can hear me… and then he comes in close to take a look at me and then flies away:

More posts about the leaf-cutter bees, including information about their life-history, how to attract them to your garden.

And another great solitary bee blog with masses of information, pictures and videos.

All images and text ©Christine Farmer Please contact me if you wish to use any of the images.

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  1. Natalie Ratcliffe

    Hi Christine,

    Firstly, thank you so much for writing these articles. They are incredibly detailed and helpful for me: some solitary bees of various kinds moved into my ladybird house but to my sadness, the eggs don’t seem to have hatched (the leaves used to seal up the holes have all turned brown now) Could any bees still be alive? Could I still rescue them?

  2. Christine Post author

    Natalie, I’m sorry to take so long to reply – but rest assured the eggs that have been layed will take until late next spring to develop and hatch, and will hopefully be fine. Look out for them in early June. In the meantime, if possible protect them from the rain and damp, in a shed or somewhere similar which is cool and dry. Best of luck!

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