Tag Archives: flowers

Bumblebees and honeybees share diseases and the outcome is not a good one.

lyme regis february 2014
Bumblebee on Rosemary on Lyme Regis sea front (February 22nd 2014) (photo by Hazel Strange)

I recently read Dave Goulson’s excellent book “A Sting in the Tale” and learnt a lot about bumblebees. Although I was aware of the global trade in honeybees, I hadn’t realised that there was an equivalent trade in bumblebees. Some crops such as tomatoes and peppers require buzz-pollination, the rapid vibration of the flower. Bumblebees do this very well and are now used extensively by commercial growers of tomatoes and other crops. To supply the demand for these useful insects there are at least thirty factories producing bumblebees for shipping all over the world. The numbers are staggering with European factories producing up to a million nests per year. This is big business with huge financial rewards but keeping so many insects together in one place risks the rapid spread of disease unless stringent hygiene precautions are observed. To complicate matters, commercially-reared bumblebees are fed pollen from honeybees so that they are potentially exposed to all the diseases that affect honeybees.

But what about wild bumblebees? What happens when a wild bumblebee forages at a flower that has already been visited by a honeybee? Are the bumblebees exposed to honeybee diseases and what might the consequences be?



Last week’s Nature magazine carried an article addressing this issue. The team who carried out the work were from Royal Holloway London, Queen’s University Belfast and Exeter University. They showed that some honeybee diseases are indeed a problem for wild bumblebees and could be causing a decline in these wild pollinators. They studied two diseases: the fungal parasite Nosema which weakens honeybee colonies, and Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) which causes abnormalities in the wings and abdomen of infected honeybees as well as severely curtailing their lifespan.

The starting point for the work was to test whether these honeybee diseases could actually infect bumblebees. The researchers inoculated bumblebees (B.terrestris) with DWV or Nosema, and found that bumblebees were indeed susceptible to infection by both diseases. In the case of DWV, infection led to reduced survival of B.terrestris workers. For Nosema, although it could infect bumblebees, this did not reduce their lifespan.

Having established that the two honeybee diseases could infect bumblebees, the researchers examined the incidence of the two diseases. They performed a large scale study on the prevalence of DWV and Nosema in honeybees and bumblebees across 26 sites in Great Britain and the Isle of Man. DWV was found in 36% of honeybees tested and in 11% of bumblebees tested. For many of the infected bumblebees, the virus was active showing that the bumblebees were not simply acting as carriers. Nosema was less prevalent being found in 9% of honeybees and 7% of bumblebees. When the geographical distribution was analysed, there was some evidence for clustering, indicating disease hotspots. Hotspots for DWV were found in the south west and east of Great Britain and for Nosema in the south east. By analysing the distribution of the two diseases they were also able to show that the prevalence of DWV in honeybees influenced the prevalence of DWV in bumblebees, implying local transmission between the two insects. Local transmission was confirmed by analysing the form (nucleotide sequence) of the virus present in the two types of bee collected from the same site.

Honeybees have a high prevalence of DWV, a consequence of infestation of colonies by Varroa mites. The most obvious conclusion from this new work is that honeybee DWV is spreading to wild bumblebees. This probably occurs when the two types of bee forage in the same environment. Because DWV infection of bumblebees reduces their lifespan, the spread of this pathogen could be contributing to the decline in bumblebee numbers.

Both honeybees and bumblebees are important pollinators and need to be maintained. Their loss would have immense financial implications. This research shows that disease control in honeybee populations, for example through the efforts of beekeepers, has important implications for the health of other pollinators as well.

Gold and frankincense in the late January garden

Although the days are getting longer, signs of winter are still all around. Orion with his three-star belt dominates the southern sky each night. The weather is dismal and although it’s mild, it surely couldn’t be wetter. The trees are dark latticeworks of leafless branches and there are few flowers to add colour to this landscape of greens and browns. But there are things to see if we take time to look.

Jan 4
The three silver birches

So, each morning as I peer through the kitchen window, my gaze is taken by three silver birch trees in the Leechwell Garden. They seem impossibly tall and vulnerable and on several occasions I expected to find them felled by high winds. But they are still there, standing close together, and with their brown and white dappled bark I have come to imagine them as a family of giraffes, two adults and a calf.

Jan 3

I also see the three Portland stone columns of the Garden sculpture. On a dull day, the stone appears pale grey, but in sunshine it takes on a light honey tone as well as texture from shadows given by neighbouring trees. When I go down to the Garden and stand by the sculpture, the stone seems whiter and I can see the detail that the artist, Rosie Musgrave, has incorporated. Each column is about two metres tall and has its own character expressed in the design carved along its length and in its distinctive head. The sculpture is named the Three Guardians and the columns represent the three water sources of the Leechwell and their local names, the Toad, the Snake and the Long Crippler (slow worm).

Jan 10
Three Guardians

Not far from the sculpture are the remains of an old tree. Its wood is saturated and very dark and, lying on the ground, the gigantic trunk looks sad, out of place, like a beached whale. At least the tree-remnant is serving a purpose, as a children’s play area. Along the trunk I notice repeated lines of grey and yellow as if it had been spray-painted. This is in fact a spectacular display of fungus encouraged by the mild damp weather. Row upon row of small, semicircular, feathery brackets cover large sections of the old tree. Some are superficially grey but a closer look reveals concentric rings with different shades of grey and white. On another part of the wood the fungus is a bright yellow/orange.

jan 9

In the herb garden there are green leaves in many shades but few flowers. One exception is a lungwort which seems to have chosen to come in to flower early, perhaps to salute the mild weather; it will not fare well if the weather turns cold. Among the oval, dark green, white-spotted leaves, one flower stem was standing carrying two lipstick-pink flowers; many buds were also waiting to take their turn. The name, lungwort, arose because the spotted leaves were once thought to resemble diseased lungs and the plant came to be used in folk medicine for treating respiratory problems.

jan 8

I‘m rather fond of lungwort as it’s very popular with bees later in the year so I spent some time looking and didn’t immediately notice the small tree behind me. Its leafless branches were covered with spidery eruptions of fine sulphur-yellow petals. These resemble the outpourings of small fireworks only the petals look slightly crumpled as though they are made from paper. This striking tree is witch hazel (hamamelis), a native of North America, known for its sweet spicy fragrance and very early flowering. The famous early 20th century gardener E A Bowles nicknamed it the Epiphany flower as it is usually out by then (January 6) with flowers of gold, and scent of frankincense. Some of the flowers will produce seed capsules which mature during the following growth season to expel their seeds explosively several metres away.

jan 7
Witch Hazel

Water from the Leechwell cascades through the Garden under a bridge and through a pool before descending under some new houses. Mostly, the water flows rather briskly but there are a few places where it is still. It was very early in the year so I was surprised to find several thick clumps of frogspawn here, for the most part under the water. As I watched, the clumps of jelly moved rhythmically backwards and forwards following the breeze and the gentle flow of the water as if the clump were alive. But of course it is alive; despite appearing superficially amorphous and colourless the frogspawn contains thousands of individual jelly compartments each with a black dot. This is the growing embryo that has the potential to become a tadpole and then a frog. The frogspawn also reminds me that a male frog has been here with a female. In the frog mating embrace, or amplexus, the male straddles the female, gripping behind her front legs. She lays thousands of eggs and he fertilises them as they emerge.


Perhaps we should learn from the frogs. It may feel to us like a low time of year with little sunshine and record rainfall. The frogs show us that nature doesn’t stop, it’s always in flux. The new season will come and there will be renewal.

All photos were taken on January 25th with the exception of the the Three Silver Birches which was taken on February 1st.

Leechwell Garden posted some photos on February 5th (see here if you do Facebook) and the progress the Lungwort has made is surprising, I suppose it’s the mild weather)

Bumblebee tales and insecticide issues.

Here is an article I wrote for the February 2014 edition of the Marshwood Vale Magazine

Late December is a low time of year for wild life, so I was surprised to see several fat, stripy bumblebees out foraging in both Dorset and in Devon when the weather allowed. According to the textbooks they should have been hibernating but I was interested to learn that one of our native bumblebees, the buff-tailed, sometimes keeps colonies going during the winter. Winter-flowering plants like mahonia and heather provide the pollen and nectar they need.

Having unexpectedly seen these insects going about their business, I was all the more saddened to read a report from the US about the mass killing of bumblebees in an Oregon supermarket car park. During the summer, the lime trees in the car park were colonised by aphids and these dropped sticky material, honeydew, on to parked cars. To deal with this tiresome problem, some enterprising individual decided to kill the aphids by spraying the lime trees with insecticide. What they failed to notice was that the trees were in flower, making them very attractive to bumblebees. The result of this unfortunate set of circumstances was that as many as 50,000 bumblebees ended up dead on the tarmac, the largest ever recorded loss of bumblebees.

bumblebee on comfrey

The insecticide used to perpetrate this mass bee killing is one of a group of chemicals collectively known as neonicotinoids. These are relatively modern insecticides used very extensively in agriculture and in gardening for control of insect pests. For example, much of the oil seed rape grown in this country uses seed treated with these insecticides and many popular garden bug-killers are neonicotinoid-based. The neonicotinoids have the advantage that once applied to a crop, they are taken up systemically by the plant which then becomes poisonous to insects. There is concern that the poison will also be picked up by bees when they forage but the manufacturers say that the risk is low if the insecticides are used correctly. This includes not spraying crops when they are in flower and if bees are present.

Bees are very important for pollinating many of our crops and flowers. There had been worries for some time about a general decline in bee populations and although several contributory factors had been identified, including loss of habitat, pathogens and climate change, insecticides were also thought to be involved. Concerns about the effects of the neonicotinoids on bees intensified in 2012 when the results of field studies were released showing that at levels that did not directly kill bees, these insecticides impaired the survival of bee colonies and so could be contributing to the decline. These findings made the European Food Safety Authority take another look at the neonicotinoids and they came to the conclusion that safety testing on bees was incomplete for some of these chemicals. As a result, they recommended a two year moratorium on several agricultural uses of three of these insecticides. The prominent food retailer, Waitrose, took a wider view and asked all their suppliers of fruit, vegetables and flowers to phase out the three insecticides because of concerns about effects on bees, butterflies and other important pollinators.

Despite a groundswell of opinion against the insecticides in environmental groups, the UK government strongly opposed the ban on neonicotinoids, although it eventually had to follow the EU directive which came in to force in December 2013. The makers of the chemicals, Bayer and Syngenta, far from being contrite about the situation, have taken the European Commission to court over the decision and the National Farmers Union has backed the move. To be fair to the government, it has recognised that there is a problem for pollinators in the UK and is developing a National Pollinator Strategy to be implemented in 2014.

In the meantime there have been further indications of problems with these insecticides. Scientists in Japan had shown that the neonicotinoids might affect brain development in animals. Based on this and other work, the European Food Safety Authority decided that there was cause for concern and recommended that acceptable human exposure levels for some of these insecticides be reduced.

Studies in the Netherlands have shown that, following extensive use of the neonicotinoid insecticides in agriculture, they are contaminating ground water. The levels are high enough to kill invertebrates in ditches and in streams. Similarly, in Saskatchewan, prairie wetlands have been contaminated with the insecticides which may be killing midges and mosquitoes. The loss of these invertebrate species could have knock-on effects on birds that depend on them for food. The problem may be exacerbated by the persistence of the insecticides in soil. These are worrying observations and suggest that these chemicals are disturbing natural eco systems.

So, evidence is mounting that the neonicotinoids are endangering wildlife and particularly beneficial insects such as bees. Two opposing camps have emerged in this conservation battle. On one side is a wide range of environmental groups and campaign organisations who oppose the use of these insecticides. One the other side are the agrochemical companies and the farmers who want to see continued use.

What should we do? We should be aware of the effects of these chemicals on our environment and the effects they may have on pollinators. We should understand the arguments both in favour and against the use of these chemicals in agriculture. We should ask ourselves whether we really need to use these insecticides in our gardens especially if this results in the death of beneficial insects. Several prominent cities including Paris, Portland (Oregon), Seattle, Tokyo and Toronto have massively reduced pesticide use without any detrimental effects. Wouldn’t it be better if our gardens were insecticide-free and filled with bee-friendly flowers and bees?

The late December garden

Late December is a paradoxical time with its short days and its gaudy celebrations. Even when the sun shines, the light is low and combined with the early arrival of evening, I feel the urge to hibernate. It’s a low time, suitable for contemplating the past year but not quite time to think about the new one.

Emily Dickinson expresses some of these thoughts in the first few lines of one of her poems:
There’s a certain Slant of light
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

On two rare sunny days at the end of 2013 (December 26 and 31), I went to the Leechwell Garden in Totnes to see how nature was reacting to this low time. The Leechwell Garden was created in 2010 from a derelict plot of land that had been, for many years, an orchard. We can see the Garden clearly from our kitchen; we watched with interest as it took shape and became a community space. It’s now an important part of Totnes life and used by many.

The Garden entrance and the pergola

Planting in the Garden has been very carefully planned to provide flower forage for insects throughout their busy time. There is also a Bug House which some solitary bees have used for their overwintering larvae; I await the hatching of the new bees later this year. Most likely there are also bumblebees in the Garden. They would be expected to be safely hibernating at this time of year but in the past week or so I have seen fat bumblebees out and about elsewhere in Devon and in Dorset.

The Bug House with an unexpected visitor

On the days I visited the Garden, the sun shone from a cloudless pale blue winter sky. The recent weather had been very mild but also wet and windy so the paths were treacherous. I didn’t expect to see any flowers this late in the year so it was a surprise to find a Prostrate Rosemary with some mauve flowers dotted around the mass of dark green foliage and a few pink blooms on patches of Thrift and Heather.

Heather and Thrift

Despite the paucity of flowers there was colour elsewhere if you looked for it, mainly from the fruits of the carefully chosen plants. The wooden pergola, an important feature of the upper garden, is covered with climbing roses and clematis in summer. One of the roses (Francis E Lester) now shows copious sprays of bright red rose hips, some plump and many slightly shrivelled but all retaining their own natural beauty, especially when seen against the clear blue sky. Elsewhere, a Cotoneaster was covered with red berries which will provide welcome food for birds when times get tougher. At the back of one of the borders, I spotted the distinctive white, translucent seed pods of Honesty, hanging like paper lanterns.



The most striking sights were the yellow fruit suspended from leafless branches of a Crab Apple (malus), rather like baubles on a Christmas tree. Some of the fruit were intact , some were decaying, swollen and split but they all extended the colour range at this time of year.


Despite the colours I have picked out, the overall feel of the Garden was monochrome, in tune with this low time of year. It would, however, be a mistake to think that everything is dormant; if you look closely there are clear signs of preparations for the new season. The Crab Apple is covered with buds and I found some catkins on several trees including Silver Birch. They are getting ready for the lengthening of the days and the retreat of the bad weather.


Next time you see Nelson’s Column, think of Dartmoor.

Dartmoor is the largest and wildest area of open country in the south of England but despite the wildness, the human imprint is never far away. For many years, the moor has been exploited by industry which has shaped the landscape and continues to do so. We walked on the moor recently, and stumbled across surprising traces of Dartmoor’s industrial past and present. Even at our starting point, the car park near where Cadover Bridge crosses the River Plym, there were signs warning of the dangers of a disused china clay pit nearby.

We began by heading up hill towards Cadover Cross. This is one of many Dartmoor Crosses, made of local granite and thought to have been landmarks for travellers in this remote countryside often plagued by bad weather. Cadover Cross may have been associated with important 12th century routes that used the river crossing.

Cadover Cross, Dartmoor
The view downhill from Cadover Cross showing the bridge over the River Plym and wide expanses of open moorland typical of this part of Dartmoor. This was one of the landscapes used by Stephen Spielberg in the Warhorse. The spoil heaps of the disused clay pit are visible on the right.
View from Dewerstone Rock
View from Dewerstone Rock

Leaving the Cross, we continued over scrubby grassland interspersed with bracken and gorse, sharing the route with sheep, a few ponies and one cow. We kept the heavily wooded Plym valley on our left but we could not yet hear the river; the only sound was the gossip of a few passing birds. Eventually we reached the highest point on this walk, Dewerstone Rock, where traces of ancient settlements have been found. From the Rock, there were panoramic views towards the coast with Plymouth Sound clearly visible. On this dull, slightly misty day, it was just possible to make out the Wheel of Plymouth on the Hoe near where, according to popular anecdote, Drake played bowls as the Armada threatened.

Cut in to the rock, and now rather eroded, is the inscription

Obit Septembris

This is a memorial to the teacher and local poet Noel Carrington who died in Bath in 1830.

From Dewerstone Rock, we dropped steeply down through oak woods passing the remains of disused 19th century quarries and the bed of a railway that was once used to transport blocks of granite down the hillside. The rails have long gone but the sleepers, regularly placed granite blocks, and the fixing holes in some of the blocks were clearly visible.

Granite sleepers, Dewerstone Woods
Granite blocks forming sleepers of the old railway
Fixing holes on granite sleeper
Fixing holes in granite block from old railway

Granite forms the bedrock of the high moor and has been used as a building material for as long as humans have inhabited Dartmoor. Many local buildings including Dartmoor Prison and the large church at Widecombe used local granite and the material has also been used in London, notably in the old London Bridge (now in Arizona) and Nelson’s Column.
The path continued in zig-zags through woodland down the side of the river valley. We could hear the river before we could see it but eventually it was there, bubbling over rocks near Shaugh Bridge. This was the half-way point of the walk and a pleasant place for us to eat our sandwiches.

P91The River Plym near Shaugh Bridge
The river Plym near Shaugh Bridge

Having crossed the river Plym, we picked up the woodland path back to Cadover Bridge. Now, all around us were traces of a second Dartmoor industry, china clay mining.

China clay was first discovered in the UK in Cornwall in the 18th century, and has been mined continuously on Dartmoor since the mid 1800s. China clay, or kaolin, was originally used to make porcelain but nowadays it is used in many processes including the manufacture of paper, ceramics and toothpaste. Kaolin is a breakdown product of granite and, for many years was mined using powerful jets of water. The water washed out the soft kaolin in a crude mixture with stones, gravel and sand. After the coarse particles were filtered out, the kaolin slurry was put in to huge settling tanks. The compacted kaolin was then dried to produce blocks of china clay for transport.
In this part of the moor, the kaolin suspension was piped more than a mile from the now disused quarry near Cadover Bridge to settling tanks and then to “drys” near Shaugh Bridge. We saw the remains of the “drys” in the National Trust Car Park. In the woods we found the settling tanks and for much of the rest of the walk we followed the ceramic pipeline that carried the crude kaolin suspension. How different this area must have been in the heyday of the granite and china clay industries.

Ceramic pipeline, Plym Valley, Dartmoor
Ceramic pipeline

We continued through woodland for a mile or more but were always conscious of the river not far below on our left; its presence reassured us that we were following the correct path. At this time of year, the landscape was mostly green so it was a surprise to come across a clutch of Rowan Trees. Their shocking orange berries will provide welcome food for hungry birds in a few weeks’ time. According to Richard Mabey, the berries, mixed with a few crab-apples, can also be used to make a “sharp, marmaladish jelly, traditionally served with game and lamb”.

Rowan Tree

Nearby, where springs wet the ground, we found the small purple flowers of Devil’s Bit Scabious. Devil’s Bit refers, in folk tales, to the short black root, bitten off by the Devil angered by the plant’s ability to treat scabies. This seemed appropriate as across the river valley were the Dewerstone Crags or Devil’s Rocks, beloved of climbers; Dewer is the ancient Celtic name for the Devil.

Devil's Bit Scabious, Dartmoor, Devon
Devil’s Bit Scabious
Dewerstone Crags, Dartmoor
Dewerstone Crags

Further on, the path dropped down to meet the fast flowing river, a perfect place for Dippers. On cue, one of the plump, chocolate-brown birds was there, standing on a rock, bobbing up and down, proudly displaying his white waistcoat while the water flowed swiftly past. We watched until the Dipper decided to leave and then we walked the short distance back to the car.

Dipper on the River Plym

This walk comes from “Dartmoor, Great short walks for all the family”, by Sue Viccars, Crimson Publishing, 2009.

Thanks go to Hazel Strange for the lovely photos.

Butterflies, flowers and imaginings by the River Avon in Devon

On a sunny day in late July, we walked by one of Devon’s rivers. With holidays and visitors, it’s taken me until now to write about it.

We started our walk from the village of Loddiswell, high above the river valley. On this warm late July day, we descended through quiet lanes confined by steep Devon Banks alive with a confetti of butterflies (mostly Meadow Brown and White). In spring, these banks are painted white with the starry flowers of Wild Garlic (Ramsons) mixed with splashes of Red Campion, but although there are few flowers now, something must be attracting the butterflies. At Reads Farm we left the road and took a path under trees and beside a stream to reach open grassland bordering the river.

River Avon near Loddiswell
The river Avon near Loddiswell

This is the middle Avon, part of this Devon river that rises high on Dartmoor dropping down to reach the sea at Bantham and Bigbury on Sea. Rain had been sparse recently and the quiet state of the river reflected this.

Comma butterfly
A Comma butterfly

We headed upstream on a riverside path enclosed by tall grasses and brambles, accompanied by more butterflies including this beautiful Comma. The dry, warm summer has been good for butterflies and I can’t remember having seen so many for some years.

Marsh woundwort
Marsh woundwort

Near the same spot was a stand of tall plants with striking orchid-like pink flowers; these are Marsh Woundwort, a plant of damp places. Woundwort features in both Gerard’s and Culpeper’s Herbals and, as the name implies, it has a long history in folk medicine for use in wound healing.

Soon the path entered woodland. The river was still close by and the tree-canopy cooled the air and dimmed the light. There are supposed to be Dippers and Grey Wagtails but we don’t see these birds today. We do see a Blackcap and my daughter sees the unmistakeable iridescent blue flash of a Kingfisher. There are Otters in the Avon and sometimes you can see otter spraint on the river bank, the closest I have come to a seeing a wild otter.

Railway Bridge over Avon 1
The old railway bridge over the Avon

Eventually, the old railway bridge appeared ahead of us. Although the bridge is a human artefact, its mellow brick now blends in well with the trees surrounding it. The sunlight filtering through the trees and reflecting from the water produced ever changing dappled patterns on the old brickwork. In the photograph of the bridge (below) the image is confusing because of the almost perfect reflection of the bridge on the surface of the still water.

Railway Bridge over Avon

We crossed the bridge to head downstream on a path continuing through woodland along the track bed of the former South Brent-Kingsbridge railway. This opened in 1893 and ran for seventy years; some called it the Primrose Line because of the profusion of these flowers in spring. Eventually, we come upon the old Loddiswell Station, largely intact. This used to serve legendary cream teas but we are out of luck today as the buildings are up for sale. When the trains ran, the station was said to be a “brisk walk away” from the village. What they didn’t say was that this included a steep hill and, after crossing the river again, that is our route back to the car.
I recently read “The Old Ways” by Robert Macfarlane describing his many walks along long-established paths. I was particularly interested in his idea that in walking along an old path it might be possible to “slip back out of this modern world”, to conjure up traces of past lives. As we walked along the track bed of the old railway, I thought again about this idea. Could I find any trace of former lives as we walked here?

When this railway came to Kingsbridge near the end of the 19th century, it would have changed people’s lives. South Devon would have become more accessible. Local produce could be sent further afield; this included crabs and lobsters for London and Southampton (for the liners). The railway would have carried men off to two wars and the lucky ones would have returned. The railway would have brought people to Kingsbridge for holidays and in 1939 children evacuated to Kingsbridge would have passed this way.

Many of these events would have been coloured with high emotion. As I walked, I could imagine some of the events and how people might have felt. These sensations were heightened by finding the old station buildings which gave me a tangible framework for my imaginings. Perhaps that’s what Macfarlane means by slipping out of this modern world.

The photographs are by Hazel Strange.

A close encounter with a Leafcutter Bee

It had been one of the first really hot days of the year; also the day Andy Murray won the men’s title at Wimbledon. We had been to the coast: for the sea and for a picnic in the early evening sun. When we got back and had unpacked the car, I went in to our garden. We have a Wisteria growing as a small tree in a pot. It had its two weeks of floral glory in May but its copious foliage now demands regular watering especially during hot weather.

While I was giving it a drink, I heard a strong buzzing near my head. Sure enough there was a blackish bee to my right, perched on one of the leaves. As I watched, it deftly cut through the leaf and rose up carrying a leaf fragment between its legs before flying away, rather like a Harrier Jump Jet. I had no camera to record this astonishing (to me) event which was a pity. When I had a look in my book of Small Woodland Creatures, I realised that this was a Leafcutter Bee, one of the UK’s solitary bees and an important pollinator for summer flowers, vegetables and herbs.

Wisteria with Leafcutter hole
Wisteria with Leafcutter hole

Next morning I had another look at the Wisteria, secretly hoping for a rerun of the events of the previous day. I didn’t see any more Leafcutters but, based on their characteristic calling card, it was clear they had been here before on more than one occasion. There were several circular holes (~ 1cm) in the leaves, the trademark of the Leafcutter Bee. When I had watched the bee, the fragment of leaf appeared about the same width as the bee and a little longer, but I believe this is because the bee folds the circle of leaf in to an aerodynamic form.

The Wisteria seems quite happy despite the invasion of the Leafcutters and anyway the leaf fragments are very important for the life cycle of these creatures so we must let them get on with it. Mated females work hard all summer to provide next year’s brood. She makes her nest in holes in plant stems, dead wood, cliffs and old walls. Leafcutters also seem happy to take up residence in purpose built bug houses, but more about that later. The female Leafcutter lines the nest with pieces of leaf and petals and constructs brood cells in the tube, providing each cell with pollen and nectar and laying one egg. She seals the cell with a piece of leaf and then starts on the next cell continuing along the tube until it is nearly full. She then collects many pieces of leaf and puts them at the nest entrance cementing them together to form a solid barrier to protect against all sorts of threats. The young bees develop in the individual cells where they overwinter and emerge the following June and the cycle starts again. There are some lovely pictures and drawings of Leafcutters on this web site.

Bug House in the Leechwell Garden
The Bug House in the Leechwell Garden

By chance, I also visited the local community garden (The Leechwell Garden) that day. The garden has many bee-friendly plants and one of the people who works there showed me their bug house. In one of the tubes was the nest of a Leafcutter bee complete with the neat sealing of leaf pieces. Here is a photo showing the (out of focus) sealed nest tube and the green leaves. I make no linkage between the Leafcutter in my garden and this nest but it is a nice coincidence.

Leafcutter nest
A Leafcutter nest with its sealing of leaves