Anyone who follows me on Twitter or has read some of this blog will know that I’ve become increasingly fond of the many and varied birds I encourage to visit my garden. So, when I found some weird leaf parcels in among the roots of some small cauliflower seedlings I was potting on, it was only natural that upon unwrapping one and finding a big fat grub that looked like it’d eat my plants, I should hand them over. They spend (the latest brood anyway) lots of time calling at me for food, and it seemed appropriate in a sort of eco-friendly, saving-the-planet, circle of life sort of a way.
I’d call myself a friend to bees. I’ve signed petitions calling for bans on pesticides which may harm them, have banned all harmful chemical/natural treatments from my own garden and spend loads of time thinking of things to grow to try and encourage them to visit and provide shelter. Imagine my horror, therefore, when a bit of digging online gave me the answer that they were the pupae of leaf -cutter bees. Further reading tells me that the leaf-cutter bee is one of the solitary bees – the very sort I’ve tried so hard to support through providing nest sites and flowers for them.
Solitary bees are incredibly hard-working pollinators and so not only did I feed baby bees to young robins (thereby potentially giving them a taste for larval bee flesh, ultimately leading to the destruction of the planet) but I fed them the very worst sort of bee. A less useful honeybee would have been a better choice, perhaps. I’m joking, although genuinely unimpressed at my ‘unwrap first, think later’ approach, which won’t happen again.
Here’s a picture of one of the cases with its little leaf-cutter bee inside. They are things of beauty: neatly packaged bundles containing a supply of food for the pupa and protection from most things except being dug up by me and fed to robins. The female cuts the leaves, uses saliva to glue them together, inserts some food, lays an egg and then beautifully seals each capsule. There were three, identically cut pieces layered together to form the seal on this one.
Having found out what they were, I retrieved all the rest from the bird table (nothing was interested in the wrapped parcels) and re-buried them in the raised bed in a bit I won’t be touching for ages. Hopefully the fact that they were so well wrapped will have protected them and it was an overcast but warm afternoon and they weren’t uncovered for long.
The female prepares them in clutches and the top ones emerge first – although I ruined her lovely system by muddling them up. I ‘planted’ them, about an inch and a half under the soil, at the same sort of angle I found them, with the sealed ends facing slightly upwards. They should, all being well, hatch and crawl out, hopefully to immediately spot the flowers I’ve been growing for them nearby.
They apparently don’t damage roots or eat the vegetation, and even if they did I’d happily sacrifice the three seedlings under which I found them because, as I said, I’d consider myself a friend to bees – although my case is somewhat weakened by the whole baby bee-murdering thing, I know. I hear leaf-cutter bees particularly like roses and I can see from the discs of the unwrapped cases, that the female must have been taking bits out of the rose I grew for my niece. I may have to get another one and see if it happens again. I really don’t particularly like growing the sort of roses that bees prefer, so will consider it penance every time I spike myself on one of the thorns. 😉
So, if you find things that look like cylindrical Brussels sprouts buried in among the roots of something potted, it’s probably the hard work of a leaf-cutter bee and should be left alone to do its thing in due course so we don’t all die from a lack of crop pollination. Definitely don’t unwrap them and feed them to young robins. (Even if they did really like them.)