leafcutting bees

Megachile perihirta, the furry leafcutting bee


The furry leafcutting bee, Megachile perihirta, is one of my favorite pollinators because it is large and showy. From a distance, this bee could easily be mistaken for a honey bee. But up close, it is hard to miss the large abdominal scopa where the leafcutting female carries her pollen load.

About the size of a honey bee, these bees are native to the western parts of North America. They are summer visitors, often seen in July and August. Although they forage on many different plant species, they have a preference for flowers in the Asteraceae family.

Like all leafcutting bees, the female of this species cuts round sections of leaves and petals to line her nest and build divisions between the egg chambers. Although many leafcutting bees nest in hollow reeds and beetle borrows, this species prefers underground tunnels.

I wasn’t able to photograph a male, but the males have distinctive white “mittens” on their forelegs and a white face. Soon after they mate, the males disappear for the year and the females begin to work at provisioning their nests.

The open-centered dahlias that I mentioned in a previous post turned into a playground for these bees. The leafcutters work fast, flit around in the flowers, and pose beautifully. Yesterday, my camera sounded like it belonged to a fashion photographer. As the bees strutted around on their flowery runway, and I just kept snapping away, trying to capture the perfect expression.

Honey Bee Suite


The furry leafcutting bees have taken a fancy to the open-centered dahlias. © Rusty Burlew.


Leafcutting bees have a characteristic posture, holding their abdomens high. © Rusty Burlew.


A view from the rear. Leafcutting bees often hold their wings out to the side when they forage, something honey bees seldom do. © Rusty Burlew.


Leafcutting bees have large mandibles, perfect for cutting leaves. In fact, the name Megachile means “large jaws.” © Rusty Burlew.


Here you can see her tongue. Although these bees are polylectic and will forage on many different plants, they seems to favor those in the Asteraceae family. © Rusty Burlew.

Honey bee and M perihirta

You can see that the honey bee (left) and furry leafcutting bee are about the same size. © Rusty Burlew.


  • I’m jealous. I live in GA and we don’t have any bees as cute, or with as cute a name as the Furry Leafcutting Bee.

  • Hi,

    You left me wanting to know more! When you say they are summer visitors, do they migrate, or that’s when they come out of hibernating? And the males disappear because they perish after mating I imagine? Do the eggs hatch and develop and the new bees come out and go looking for a wintering spot, females and males? Or do females lay male eggs in the new season to start with?

    I just would love to know more of their life cycle!

    Thank you for another wonderful post and pictures. I love hymenoptera!

    • Pedro,

      I’ve written lots about native bees, but here’s some quick answers:

      1. They are summer visitors because their active lives span 6 to 8 weeks during the summer. The rest of the year is spent as immature bees in their nest.
      2. They do not migrate.
      3. Unlike honey bees, the males mate many times before they die.
      4. The eggs hatch in the nest, they eat their provision of food as larvae, and spend the winter as pupae or adults, depending on the species.
      5. Females lay both male and female eggs. The male eggs are placed nearest to the nest opening so they are first to hatch in spring.

  • I always look forward to your posts on native bees. Your mention of the leafcutting bees last week, made me wonder if I had some on my dahlias too, but what I saw in addition to the honey bees and bumble bees, looked more slender than a bumble, but larger, fuzzier and not as slender as a honey bee. Now I know to look for the abdominal scopa. These dahlias are at such a great height for bee watching. Yesterday I saw a pair of bumbles mating on the underside of a blossom. I’d never seen that before.

    • Ellen,

      I’m so happy that you introduced me to the dahlias. The bees just love them. This week they have honey bees in attendance as well. If you get photos, I can try to help with identification. Washington is home to about 200 native species and quite a few introductions as well. I also have some photos of small carpenter bees, Ceratina, on some of the dahlias which I will post eventually.

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