Friday 1 July 2011

Leaf-cutter bee antics

There has been a lot of leaf-cutter bee activity in the last week in the garden. Females collect nectar and pollen from Campanula, wild rocket (female collecting pollen above), everlasting peas, and birds foot trefoil. They have colourful pollen baskets underneath their abdomen.
 Males patrol the females' favourite nectar and pollen sources. Here a male Megachile willughbiella, easily recognisable by their white-golden mittens and moustache, flies by everlasting pea flowers.
They also keep a close eye on the bee hotel, where, for the first time, I have seen nesting activity, and often bask on top of it or nearby on sunny spells.
Males of Megachile willughbiella also "sleep" in the hotel, or seek refuge during cold or rainy spells. On the photo above, two males settle for the night. The plugged nests around them belong to Osmia rufa, the red mason bee.
When they detect a female feeding, males hover in front of them for a little while before attempting mating. The following description is for Megachile fortis, an American species of leaf-cutter by John Neff and Beryl Simpson, may well apply to the british Megachile species:
 When a female was encountered on a sunflower head, the male hovered in front of the capitulum while the female moved around it, probing the circular array of florets. When the female reached the 1200 position (aligned vertically on the capitulum with her head up) he darted forward and grasped her with his fore and mid legs, rapidly curling his abdomen under the tip of her abdomen, apparently attempting copulation. Both bees then dropped from the flower with the female quickly escaping or being released to fly away and resume foraging. The period from pouncing on the female to release was quite brief, typically less than 3 seconds.
 Today I had the chance to observe a female Megachile willughbiella repelling a male. She was basking on top of the bee hotel and the patrolling male spotted her. He pounced on her but she curled her abdomen up as you can see in the photo above. The male flew away and the female adopted a more relaxed position. Leaf-cutter have very mobile abdomens and tend to tip them upwards. I have no idea why, but I wonder if it has something to do with their pollen collecting. However, males also have this tendency to raise their abdomens when feeding or just when preening themselves.
 I have posted before on these species leaf-cutting behaviour itself, but I had never had the chance to look at a finished nest from close up. Two nests were finished in the last couple of days in the bee hotel. As you can see below, nests come in colours. I wonder if the yellow one is made out of Potentilla petal sections.

Both species of leaf-cutters are nesting in the bee hotel, the smaller I believe is M. centuncularis and the large, M. willughbiella.
Here a female M. centuncularis, recognisable by her all orange pollen brush and marked white striped abdomen, works on the yellow nest.
John L. Neff and Beryl B. Simpson. 1991. Nest Biology and Mating Behavior of Megachile fortis in Central Texas (Hymenoptera:Megachilidae) Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, 64: 324-336.

1 comment:

Dave Lunt said...

Excellent christmas tree recycling