Saturday, August 23, 2014

Waste not, want not.

Active paper wasp nest
Last week I was in Wood River, Nebraska gathering with friends and colleagues at this year’s “Patch Burn Grazing” working group meeting.  I used to live on-site where the meeting was being held, so it was pleasant to return. It was all much as before I'd left. The cattle still worked the tallgrass, the road was still gravel, and the 70's-era carpet in the main building still resembled multi-layered and lush green moss.

I saw some familiar faces, one of whom pointed me to a relatively uncommon natural phenomena. Leaf cutter bees had decided to lay eggs in abandoned paper wasp nest. Unfortunately, I was unable to capture a picture of these crafty mothers exiting their chosen tunnels, but I did get a picture of the distinctive leaf caps sealing the ends of these structures. You can compare the leaf cutter bee filled nests to the images (taken from a previous post) of an active paper wasp nest.

I also happen to adore leaf cutter bees. They have a BIG personality for such a little arthropod. Leaf cutters have a distinctive high pitched tone to their buzzing. Once you learn to recognize it, you can pick their hum out of a crowd of pollinators in a garden. I have written about them before

Recycling a la leaf cutter bee
A quick google search turned up results suggesting that practice of re-purposing of old paper wasp nests by leaf cutter bees is perhaps uncommon but not undocumented.  I don't know why they would choose this nest instead of using some of the many sumac stems or downed cotton woods scattered around the site. Perhaps the bees were attracted by the number of tunnels? I'd be curious to learn how many larvae make it through the Nebraska winter in this seemingly flimsy shelter. I'll have to ask my Nebraska friends and colleagues to keep an eye on it.


  1. That is fascinating! Thanks so much for blogging about it. I've seen mud dauber nests reused extensively, but I've never seen leaf cutter bees reusing a paper wasp nest. I'll be keeping my eyes open around here now, since I have a thriving leaf cutter bee population.

  2. Hey Anne
    I posted the video on you tube of the bees in the wasp nest. Check your e-mail for the link