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Leaf-cutter bees in action!

My name is Dino J. Martins, I am a Kenyan entomologist and I love insects. The Kiswahili word for insect is dudu and if you didn’t know already, insects rule the world! Thanks to the amazing efforts of the ‘little things that run the world’ I was humbled to be selected as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. This blog is a virtual dudu safari through the fascinating world of bugs. Enjoy, leave a comment and send any questions or comments to me through: insects.eanhs@gmail.com


Hello! While watching the eggplant flowers for pollinators in Turkana I noticed that some of the leaves of several nearby bell-pepper plants had neat circular pieces cut out from them…

Who is responsible for these missing circles?
Who is responsible for these missing circles?

I sat down to watch the plants, suspecting that the perpetrator would be back soon. A few minutes later an fervent buzzing zipped up to the plants and settled on one of the leaves. It was a leaf-cutter bee!

Leaf-cutter bee sinks it teeth into a leaf
Leaf-cutter bee sinks it teeth into a leaf

The bee works rapidly to cut through the leaf in a near-perfect circle…

Leaf-cutter bee rapidly chews the leaf off
Leaf-cutter bee rapidly chews the leaf off

Then the bee takes off for its nest with the piece of the leaf held under it. It will use this to line the walls of the tubular next that it constructs for its larva. As these bees are also very good and efficient pollinators, they are welcome to use some of the crops’ leaves for their nests.

Leaf-cutter bee carries off the leaf to its nest!
Leaf-cutter bee carries off the leaf to its nest!

More from the world of bugs soon. Thanks to everyone for the kind comments and especially to Ima Ryma for the poem!



  1. john chontos
    Las Vegas
    February 26, 2014, 1:10 pm

    I have a tree in my yard that never loses its leaves, heart shaped an about two inches long. Bees have continually been taking circle cuts from its leaves of about one half inch diameter. My question is do the use them for food or nesting, what kind of bee/wasp is it? I don’t know what type of tree it is,either.

  2. Elaine Kist
    September 19, 2013, 1:26 pm

    I have leaf cutter bees and they area killing my trees, shrubs and plants. What can I do to repel them or control them. I know they are important pollinators, I just have too many doing too much damage.

  3. Jon Budge
    Johannesburg South Africa
    January 24, 2013, 3:07 pm

    As a 63 year old guy who started keeping bees in my high school years and have been a keen gardener all my life I was amazed this evening to see for the first time ever a leaf cutter bee.I saw him fly onto the edge of a leaf of a raspberry bush.WIth a rolling motion he/she cut this very neat round hole in the leaf.At first I thought it was a wasp with a green worm in its pincers .Then I noticed it had cut the hole in the leaf .The insect back on three occasions but I wasn’t able to take a photo .Ill be waiting tomorrow.
    Do these insects live in storms or are they solitary Jon

  4. Dino Martins
    October 3, 2011, 3:00 pm

    Thanks everyone for the kind comments!

  5. Ima Ryma
    August 22, 2011, 4:29 am

    I am watching him watching me,
    Doing my special dudu thing.
    He calls me the leaf cutter bee.
    Humans are into their naming.
    I don’t mind, ’cause he seems harmless,
    Probably put me in his blog.
    That would be cool, I must confess,
    Beeing known for my workalogue,
    Cutting out circles from a leaf
    To use to build my home sweet nest.
    So I’ll humor him, but bee brief.
    Sometimes humans can be a pest.

    Later, I will check how I bee,
    Blogged on his blog on my p.c.

  6. Pamela Claassen
    Seattle WA USA
    August 22, 2011, 1:12 am

    My name is Pamela Claassen. I am a gardener at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle WA USA. I am so excited to fine your article on leaf-cutter bees. The photos are fantastic!! Just today while weeding grass seedling out of one gallon pots planted with violets for feeding the larva of the Silver Spotted Butterfly, I noticed a rather strange looking bee, I thought, buzzing around the pots. This bee seemed strange because the under side of the abdomnial section was green. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Then I saw it go into the bottom drain hole of the pot. That’s when I realized it was building a nest in the soil. I watched the pot for several minutes and didn’t see anymore bee action. About five minutes later I saw the same kind of bee again flying around the pots until it finally found the right one and in it went through the drain hole and disappeared. Then it dawned on me, this must be a leafcutter bee. That’s a section of leaf that’s it’s carrying. I’ve never seen one cutting on a plant and certainly not one carrying a section of leaf back to it’s nest!
    I immediately thought I have to look this up on the internet when I get home. Then I couldn’t believe it when I saw this article on leafcutter bees and it was just written yesterday!! This is incredible. I can hardly wait to tell the zookeeper who takes care of the Bug World exhibit at our zoo and the gardener who grows the violets for the Silver Spotted Butterfly larva. We’ll definitely flag this one pot so it’s not disturbed.
    Thank you, Dino, for such fantastic photos of the leafcutter bees.

  7. sanjay
    August 21, 2011, 12:34 am

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