Leafcutter bees

 I’ve now got my Leafcutter Bee House, what do I need to know?

Following the purchase of your Leafcutter Bee House, it may come with a Post Mounting Sleeve to allow you to position it anywhere in your garden. If it doesn’t come complete with this additional sleeve, it can be hung on a wall, a tree or a fence post – though it is highly recommended to mount the house no lower than a metre in height and at eye level – ensuring you can enjoy seeing the bees go about their daily activity.

Depending on the time of year, it is likely you will probably get a redeemable card along with your purchase, allowing you to come online and redeem your bees. While you wait for these to be sent out, it is an ideal opportunity to look around your garden and pick out the perfect site.

In considering this site, it’s strongly encouraged to position the house so that the nesting tunnels are facing the morning sun. Bees are generally cold blooded, so a little bit of warmth in the morning is great to get them active and get them working early on. Wherever possible, it is important to try and avoid prevailing winds.

In addition, full instructions will come with the product showing you how to install the product and place the cocoons in to the house. These are also available on the BeeGAP website.

Leafcutter bee house

 So when will these bees be active and at their best?

Emerging in warmer weather, the leafcutter bee will typically be active from later November through to early April. Depending on what part of the country you are in, the leafcutter bee will naturally emerge probably in the first week of January – much like it does in South Canterbury.

It is possible for the bee to emerge sooner in warmer part of the country, particularly the North Island, and it is not unusual to see emergence and nesting activity taking place well before January.

Following emergence, the leafcutter bee will pollinate tirelessly for at least three months, before gently fading away as it comes to the end of its natural lifecycle.

 Amazing summer pollinator

The alfalfa or lucerne leafcutter bee became a hero in the first half of the 20th century by saving the declining lucerne seed industry. New Zealand introduced this species in the early 1970’s, courtesy of renowned entomologist Dr. Barry Donovan , of A familiar story, seed production decreased when pollinating bees lost their habitats to agriculture and land clearing. This threatened a major food nutrient for livestock. Lucerne is a source of high protein for livestock in pasture and hay mixes. Today, around the world the alfalfa / lucerne leafcutter bee is used extensively to pollinate this crop, and many others.

This busy, blue-eyed bee is a great summer garden addition. It’s a tiny, fast pollinator for summer fruits, flowers and vegetables. Its hairy body makes it an excellent pollinator.

 A sun worshipper

The sun loving leafcutter bee can be recognised by their black, pale yellow striped abdomen and face, approximately 2/3 the size of a honey bee. It hibernates as larvae from early autumn until they are placed out to develop into adult bees. They can survive until early January as larvae, though the leafcutter bee is a hot weather bee and needs warmer temperatures for 3-4 weeks for them to develop into adult bees.

Leafcutter bee

Gentle-natured, gregarious

While all leafcutter bee species are solitary, only the alfalfa leafcutter is gregarious. This means that females will nest very close together, one of the main characteristics for these managed pollinators. In order to be effective for gardeners and commercial growers, bee pollinators must be able to live together in a “managed” environment.

The leafcutter bee is gentle. A cavity dwelling bee that lays her eggs in existing holes, she does not create holes or damage structures to make holes. Leafcutter bees stay close to home, foraging for pollen and nectar within (100 – 200m) of their nesting habitat - meaning the benefits stay right at home in your garden.

Since the female performs all of the activities alone, she can’t do the work AND guard her nest simultaneously, therefore her goal is to lay her eggs, and lay them in her own hole.

As a result, she is not overly protective of the nesting hole, as is the case with social bees. Instead, female leafcutter bees can sting, but do so very, very, rarely. It only occurs as a defensive action if she’s caught in clothing or held tightly, and the rare sting is similar to a mosquito bite. In addition, there has been no reports of a sting causing an anaphylactic shock, and this bee species remains incredibly safe for all involved.