Leafcutter Bees

Description of leafcutter bees

Leafcutter bees are small to medium-sized, fuzzy insects that are a valuable part of the natural ecosystem because of the pollination service they provide to many plants.  Unlike honey bees, leafcutter bees are solitary.  They do not form colonies and each nest is the work of an individual female.

Life cycle of leafcutter bees

There are several species of leafcutter bees with similar habits and behavior.  They nest in hollow plant stems and other natural cavities (including exposed gaps in building moldings and plywood house siding).  The female leafcutter bees cut dime-sized, circular disks of foliage from nearby plants and place them within existing cavities to line and separate individual brood cells or chambers.  A single female may cut as many as 10,000 foliage disks during her lifetime.  The cells within the nest are each approximately 1/2-inch long and provisioned with a ball of plant nectar and pollen.  One egg is laid in each cell.  Leafcutter bee eggs hatch into small larvae ("grubs").  These consume the stored food as they grow and develop.  After several weeks the larvae transform into adults and emerge from the hollow stems or structure gaps

Damage caused by leafcutter bees

The most easily recognized symptom of leafcutter bee activity is the circular holes 1/2 inch or less in diameter cut from the edge of ornamental plant leaves and flowers.  The cuts are very neat and nearly perfectly round, leaving the appearance that the holes were “punched out” with a large paper

Circular holes in leaves from leafcutter bee nest building.
Leafcutter bees cut small circles from leaves to make their nests.  The damage is harmless to the plant.

 punch.  The holes are cut from the edge of the leaf or flower and never from the interior.

Management of leafcutter bees

Commonly attacked plants include roses (both foliage and flower petals), redbud, lilac and ash foliage, though other plants may be attacked as well.  The damage is a curiosity rather than a threat and controls are rarely justified.  The bees are beneficial pollinators and should be encouraged and protected rather than controlled through wide-area use of insecticides.

Do you live in Iowa and have an insect you would like identified?

The Iowa State University Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic will identify your insect, provide information on what it eats, life cycle, and if it is a pest the best ways to manage them.  Please see our website for current forms, fees, and instructions on preserving and mailing insects.   

Contact information for each states diagnostic laboratory for U.S. residents.  If you live outside of Iowa please do not submit a sample without contacting the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic.  

Last reviewed:
April 2024

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on September 13, 2016. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.