Leafcutter Bee Cuttin’ a Rug on Milkpea

20 Aug

Megachile sp. (the bee)

Galactia volubilis (the pea)

Fabaceae—the legume family

Today is movie day at the blog.  No worries, the movie only lasts a minute or two, literally. It shows the convergence of two wonderful species.

Milkpea by John Bradford

Eastern Milkpea is one of a trio of species so closely related they are tough to discriminate.  The present species is a climbing vine found across the southern U.S. and beyond.  It loves scrub habitats locally, and when spunky can cover old stumps, fallen trees, and living bushes.  

MP by JB. The pollen lies within the central groove.

Pea-type flowers are complex.   I always wonder to what extent they are specialized for certain pollinators or for pollinator groups, if not single species.  Yes, it is possible to find diverse visitors to a pea-flower-type. Even so, there may have been a “key demographic,” just like I am sometimes a “visitor” at Bed, Bath and Beyond, but not the target demographic.  Fact is, I’ve seen wasps and “other” bees on Eastern Milkpea, but it sure gets along well with Leafcutter Bees. The fact that the bee opens the flower to access the pollen, and then the flower snaps shut as the bee departs is remarkable in itself, IMHO.

Leafcutter bee, abdomen down

And why does a Leafcutter cut leaves?   Not for salad, but to line its nest in a hollow cavity.  Some folks who like them (I do) put out bundles of bamboo sticks, where the bees nest in the hollows.   They collect pollen by capturing it in the hairs on the underside of their abdomen, which consequently looks yellow on some individuals.  

Abdomen up

There must be a reason the bee raises its fanny, bending it toward is head.   It took some internet searching, but aha! there is it is, in a 1964 Masters thesis by a very observant C. E. Osgood (relevant passage shown at end of blog).  When the abdomen is lifted and bet forward the hairs spread apart out straight to gather pollen like a comb from the legs, then when the abdomen is lowered, the hairs  push the pollen up against the abdomen and trap it. More or less.

A movie was promised.  Get the popcorn. Here is the plotline:

  1. Leafcutter bee lands on Milkpea flower.
  2. The bee uses its hind legs to gather and transfer pollen to the abdomen, which requires a lot of moving the abdomen around. The pollen is yellow.
  3. Bee exists stage left.
  4. There’s more….
  5. Then look very very carefully and quickly:  at the center of the flower a tiny (I mean tiny!) black thrips (plant pest) pops out of the crease at the flower center for about a second, then ducks back into the groove. Why the furtivity?

Note: the cameo by the thrips is FAST. Don’t miss it.

  1. A gigantic (relative to the thrips) ant appears and seems to look exactly where the thrips was.   Can’t prove it, but I think that ant is hunting for some thrips.

Enjoy the show and CLICK HERE!

Yes, thrips is a singular word. “I saw a thrips today.”

Sez C.E. Osgood 164.

Posted by on August 20, 2021 in Uncategorized


8 responses to “Leafcutter Bee Cuttin’ a Rug on Milkpea

  1. Annie HIte

    August 20, 2021 at 9:57 pm

    I enjoyed your movie! Should the pile of bamboo sticks to serve as bee housing be placed in sun or shade and does elevation make a difference?

    • George Rogers

      August 20, 2021 at 10:06 pm

      Hi Annie….must admit I’m too much of a newb to give a meaningful answer. Wish I knew!

  2. Suzanne Koptur

    August 21, 2021 at 11:30 am

    Hi George, Got my popcorn ready, but no video came up, maybe you forgot the link? best wishes, Suzanne

    • George Rogers

      September 10, 2021 at 6:52 pm

      Hi Suzanne, just found your comment today. Seems there was some glitch with the video as it was uploaded but the gremlins stepped aside and it decided t work ok.

  3. Linda Cooper

    August 22, 2021 at 8:33 am

    No clickable link in your post for me. It just says CLICK HERE in plain black text. I would love to see the movie. I love your blogs but don’t often comment.

  4. Linda Cooper

    August 22, 2021 at 8:34 am

    Now there is a bee insert to click on! That was not visible in the original post. Thank you. I will watch now.

  5. Jay BIrder

    August 26, 2021 at 7:50 am

    Nail biting video…. so fun to watch. And all is well in the land of nature…

    • George Rogers

      September 10, 2021 at 6:50 pm

      Thanks Jay! Just found your comment belatedly today!


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