I’ve been waiting all winterlong for my small colony of leaf-cutter bees to emerge from their nests. Last year, I recorded their parents emerging from the same bamboo tubes (see here). The bees emerging this week began as an egg, laid last July. The female bee lays a solitary egg in each tube, and blocks the entrance with chewed-up leaf mulch, to create a protective nest for each egg. She also leaves enough pollen to sustain the larva as it grows within the protection of the tube. During the last week, having developed from larva to adult, the bees began to chew through the entrances of their tubes, and emerge. Half of the bees had already emerged by the weekend, and as the video above shows (recorded on Sunday afternoon), the rest are soon to emerge (they need a while to warm up).
I had wondered if any of the bees that had already emerged had survived – I’d seen a bee-killing wasp¹ around earlier (the one pictured above is from last year).A little later, I did see one of the leaf-cutters sunning itself, so at least one fo them has made it. Their adult lives will be short, even without predators. After mating, the males will die. Each female is effectively a solitary queen, and it will spend the next few weeks preparing each nest tube for the long transformation of the egg within. Once the eggs are laid, the females will die off too – their legacy and DNAs preserved in the darkness of little wooden tubes attached to a wall in my back garden. A new journey will begin.
¹In theory, the leaf-cutter should be safe from the ‘bee wolf’ wasps, since they mainly hunt honey bees. But I’ve watched them lunge at other bees last year, so who knows. These wasps are also solitary, and, like the leaf-cutter, create individual nests for each egg. Unlike the bees, the nests are small tunnels in the soil. And unlike the leaf-cutter, the source of food left beside each wasp egg is not pollen but a freshly killed honey bee.