As promised, here’s the first of my posts for Pollinator Awareness Week and I’m going to start with one of my favourite groups of bees – the leaf-cutters of the genus Megachile. The UK has only nine Megachile species recorded, several of which are quite frequently found in gardens.
In my urban garden in Northampton I’ve often encountered the Patchwork leaf-cutter (Megachile centuncularis) this summer. As you can see from the link to Steve Falk’s excellent photographs and description of the species, it’s quite distinctive with a brush of orange hairs that extends right to the tip of the abdomen (see the first picture, though the colour of this can fade with age so it’s not always so apparent). The brush is used for collecting pollen from flowers to take back to provision its nest, which is constructed from leaf segments lining a tubular cavity in old walls, wood or occasionally soil (hence “leaf-cutter” bees). The leaf-cutters (as with 90% of bee species) are “solitary” in the sense that they don’t have a social structure with a communal nest, a queen, etc. It’s the female bees that are solely responsible for nest building; the purpose of the males is simply to mate.
I’ve seen this species visiting my runner beans in the garden and, given their size, they probably pollinate that crop, though not as effectively as bumblebees which are much more abundant.
In the image above you can clearly see the pollen that’s been collected by this bee under its abdomen.
In my garden the Patchwork leaf-cutter is very fond of Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina), but I’ve seen it collecting nectar and pollen on a wide range of other plants too.