Getting to Know Leafcutter Bees

Thanks to our colleague Dr. Jonathan L. Larson for providing this information. Dr. Larson is an Extension Educator in Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy Counties

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  • Leafcutter bees are important pollinators that are members of the family Megachilidae. They tend to be stout-bodied, dark in color, and have pollen collecting hairs on their “belly”
  • They visit many crops including alfalfa, blueberries, cherries, almonds, onions, carrots and dozens of different wildflowers
  • Leafcutter bees pose little sting hazard in comparison to the honey bee or even Beedrill and even though they can cosmetically damage some plants it is best not to use insecticides against them

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What is Blooming in the Habitat-August

Bumble bee on Pitcher's sage.

Bumble bee on Pitcher’s sage.

Pitcher’s sage (Salvia azurea) has been blooming in the habitat for a few weeks.  It has an amazing blue color. This native perennial is in the mint family, but is not an aggressive spreader.  The stems are tall and erect, with the plant reaching a height of 2-5 feet. Plant it in full sun. Nearly every day this month, I see bumble bees on the flowers of this plant. They love it and so will you.


Pitcher's sage in the Cherry Creek Habitat.

Pitcher’s sage in the Cherry Creek Habitat.

Bees Need a Drink Too!

Its HOT!  Bees and other pollinators need fresh water to drink too.  Add a bee water station in your yard for bees and other animals to get a drink.  Bird baths work fine too.  Place a rock in the water station for the insects to land on when they visit.


Bee water station in Cherry Creek Pollinator Habitat.

Bee water station in Cherry Creek Pollinator Habitat.

Honey bee visiting a birdbath.

Honey bee visiting a birdbath.

What is blooming in the habitat

Prairie ragwort is a native plant that blooms May through June. This wildflower is a biennial or short-lived perennial that is approximately one foot tall.  It attracts many pollinators like bees, flies, moths and butterflies.


Prairie ragwort blooming now in the Cherry Creek Habitat.

Prairie ragwort blooming now in the Cherry Creek Habitat.

Teaching Youth about Pollinators

Yesterday Soni and I were presenters at the Outdoor Discovery Program held at Platte River State Park.  The weather was perfect, sunny, with a slight breeze. We taught 4th graders about pollinators and what they need for a habitat. We discussed one out of every three bites of food we eat is there because of pollinators. We asked the youth if they could make a list of pollinators and they easily mentioned bees, butterflies, bats and hummingbirds. The kids were surprised to learn that flies and beetles could be pollinators too. We talked about native solitary bees and showed them bee houses.The youth were able to view pollinators in action since it was a beautiful spring day and there were blooming wild plums near our site.  The kids were provided journals so they could record their observations. Thank you Nebraska Game and Parks for providing youth this wonderful educational opportunity.


Waiting for kids to arrive.

Waiting for kids to arrive.

Are You Working on Your Native Bee Nest Boxes?

Bee Nest Box Structure - Bee Hotel

Bee Nest Box for the Cherry Creek Habitat

Now’s a great time to be working on your native bee nesting blocks and insect hotels. Make your structures simple or complex, basic or creative. The native bees won’t care – you’ll just want to provide a variety of hole sizes in the blocks or tubes you provide.

Check out Attracting Pollinators to Your Landscape. This resource also includes directions on how to make native bee nesting blocks. Once you’ve made your nesting blocks/structures, you can set those out in your landscape this spring.

Speaking of spring…It won’t be long and we’ll start to see “spring” in the Cherry Creek Habitat. You can enjoy the seasons with us on the live cam. The native bee nesting box structure and insect hotel are on the north side of the habitat – near the back of the camera view. Enjoy – watch live here.

Here’s to Sharing the Buzz!


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Collecting Seeds

Common milkweed seeds ready to relocate by the wind.

Common milkweed seeds ready to relocate by the wind.

Another beautiful fall day!  It is a perfect day to collect seeds from native plants.  Our milkweeds are going to seed, so it is important to collect some before they all go poof in the wind.  After collecting the seeds, you can replant them in a new location as soon as possible. They will germinate next spring.  If you are saving the seeds, be sure to give them time to dry out completely before you store them.  They will rot if not dried properly.  Be sure to label the envelope or container you store them in.

Monarch Watch needs milkweed seed donations to continue their Monarch habitat restoration efforts. Monarch Watch is a nonprofit educational outreach program based at the University of Kansas. Visit their website at  to learn more about their efforts in saving monarch butterflies.


Swamp milkweed seeds.

Swamp milkweed seeds.

‘Lone Wolf’ Sawtooth

Sawtooth sunflower in the Cherry Creek Habitat

At 9 feet, this perennial sawtooth sunflower is standing tall in the Cherry Creek Habitat

My, my, my… how one of our perennial sunflowers has grown!

We have a sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus) in the Cherry Creek Habitat. When grown in tight colonies the sunflowers reach 3-5 feet tall. However, when you plant one by itself (described as a ‘lone wolf’) it can reach up to 12 ft tall. This afternoon, we went out and measured the sawtooth sunflower in the Cherry Creek habitat and it is 9 ft tall. It is glorious! Unfortunately, it is too tall for the space (and could be aggressive),  so we’ll have to move it later. There are plenty of pollinators on the sunflower now and it certainly is a standout in the habitat.

Other habitat news:

  • Excited! Jim in our office is busy adding a camera out back so we can view the habitat on the web and share video. We should even have “night vision”.
  • We’ve also been doing some nitty gritty work with weeding and adding more rock to keep working on the erosion issues with the space.
  • The activity at the bee nesting structure has really slowed down, although I did see one leaf cutter bee busy at work. Bumble bees have certainly not slowed down their activity – they are still as busy as “bees”.
  • Today, we saw a lot of monarchs moving south on their migration while working in the habitat.
  • As we move into fall, it will be time to harvest seed and plant more plants.
  • Speaking of sunflowers, the Lemon Queen sunflowers may not look as pretty now that the flowers are gone, but they are providing food for birds. This afternoon, a female cardinal and three of her young were busy feeding on the seeds.

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When a thistle makes you smile…

Native thistles like this tall thistle, are important to our pollinators. Remember, not all thistles are bad. It didn’t take long for the bumble bees and skipper to find this beautiful thistle flower. The tall thistles are just starting to bloom in the Cherry Creek Habitat. We can’t wait!!

Native thistles are both beautiful and important to our pollinators.

Enjoy “A Pasture Poem” by Richard Wilbur featuring the “thistle”
– also set to music (full text of the poem follows)

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When the honey bees swarm…

Honey bees swarming July 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by Barb Ogg, Exxtension Educator

Honey bees swarming July 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by Barb Ogg, Extension Educator

A co-worker in our office captured an exciting event on her backyard fence last night – a honey bee swarm.  Sometimes honey bee colonies send off swarms with one queen and several thousand workers. This a natural event for honey bees. Typically bee colonies trigger a swarm when the colony is overcrowded, usually in early summer. This swarm is moving to a new site a little later in the season.

During the move to a new site, the queen bee will select a place to rest while scouts look for a new home. She’ll choose a fence, tree branch or even a spot on the ground. While the queen rests, the worker bees cluster around her.  The swarm stays clustered around the queen until scout bees chose a permanent site for their colony. This may take a a few hours or a couple of days. Once the site is chosen, the swarm quickly breaks apart and leaves. (This is a good time to remind everyone to make sure your home doesn’t have any gaps or cracks where the scout bees could move the colony. Seal and caulk these openings immediately.) Continue reading