Dear Readers, it is always worth having a close look at your flowers at this time of year, in case you are visited by one of these little charmers. This is a leaf-cutter bee, most probably Willughby’s Leafcutter Bee (Megachile willughbiella), and the bright orange underside is because she doesn’t have any pollen baskets on her legs like a bumblebee or honeybee, so instead she has a bright orange ‘pollen brush’ on her tummy.
I was fairly advanced in years before I realised that the UK even had leafcutter bees – I thought of them as tropical creatures, like the leafcutter ants that I’d watched in the Bugs! exhibit at London Zoo, carrying bits of leaf along a rope and using them as the growth medium for the fungi that they actually ate. Leafcutter bees cut perfect half-circles out of the leaves of plants such as roses and, in my case, enchanter’s nightshade, and use them to create cells in which to lay their eggs.
I would love to see a leafcutter bee whizzing through the air with a rolled-up leaf held under her belly, but no luck so far. But these insects are commoner than you’d think, though probably not as common as previously (like most things). The Guardian published a Country Diary piece about this very creature in 1916, and it’s well worth a read. See what you think!
Incidentally, if you want to attract this insect, and many other solitary bees, you can’t beat some straightforward, open-flowered plants, like the Inula in the photo below. Hoverflies love them too.