Rainbows, Circles & Pirates

Tom Wilson (Class of 2017) shared this stupendous photo of a rain clouds and a rainbow at Treasure Shores Park prior to our field trip there on 7-21-2018.  The early bird gets the worm (or the rainbow).

Treasure Shores park no longer has lifeguards (due to budget shortfalls), and the life guard station, you can see, has fallen into disrepair.  The bathrooms remain in working order, and a happy group poses in front of them …

Beach dune, coastal strand, and marvelous maritime hammock were visited.  In the maritime hammock we saw conspicuous circles on a variety of plants, the handiwork of leafcutting bees.  These benevolent, solitary bees are in the family Megachilidae.  Sixty-three species are found in Florida (in 7 genera), according to the University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Only female leafcutting bees cut circles in plants leaves, and these ladies are not especially picky about what plants they select, as illustrated above by the distinctive round holes in wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) and the muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) vine that is engulfing the wild coffee.

Leafcutting bees are native, are important pollinators, and are about the same size a European honeybees (Apis mollifera).  Unlike colonial European honeybees that sting to protect their hive, solitary leafcutting bees rarely sting — unless molested (I.e., stepped upon).  The females collect pollen on the hairs on their abdomen (unlike honeybees that store pollen in specialized structures on the legs), mix it with plant nectar and saliva, and form a ball of “bee bread”.

Leafcutting bees use holes in decaying wood, hollow plant stems, and even holes on concrete to make multi-cell nests that tend to be 4 – 8″ long.  Each cell is provisioned with “bee bread” and one larvae.  Circular bits of plant materials are used to separate the nest cells.

Below is a myrsine (Mysine cubana) at Treasure Shores Park that has been visited by a leafcutting bee.

Leafcutting bees do not seem to mind aromatic plants.  Last year when we visited Treasure Shores Park, we saw the distinctive circular cuttings on redbay (Persea borbonia), shown below, and on a tough bully (Sideroxylon tenax) with a robber fly perching on it.

We have seen evidence of leafcutting bees at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, too.  The photo below was taken there on 9-15-2017 following Hurricane Irma on beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) along Jungle Trail.

Leafcutting bees occupy a variety of habitats at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area. Below tallowwood, a plant of dry places that grows on the south side of Oslo Road, had fresh, new reddish leaves and a circular leaf cutter bee spot (lower left) right after Hurricane Irma on 9-15-2017.

We also saw leafleting bee “damage” on red maple (Acer rubric) in wet areas at ORCA at the same time …

Some people see the round handiwork of leafleting bees as disfiguring to ornamental plants.  I like to see beauty of their efforts and think back nostalgically to the days of hole punches.  Click here for information about how to attract leafcutting bees to your yard.

Most children — and some adults — take a joyful approach to nature and life like the playground pirates at Treasure Shores …

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