Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Mystery Revealed, The Naming of Things

A mystery revealed.  We admired this bee all summer, it lingered through Autumn, and has only recently disappeared from our garden during the onset of colder weather.  We watched with curious delight as it sipped nectar from the Crowea, occasionally visiting other flowers but always returning to is favourite hot pink bloom. We actually bought a second Crowea to encourage its visits. I like to know the name of things. This little critter was dubbed native bee and it didn't seem right, especially as it now adorns my header.  Finally I got around to sending a picture off to the Discovery Centre at Melbourne Museum, and the same day they had an answer for me, such an amazing service.

Dear Kirsty,

Thank you for sending your images into Discovery Centre at Melbourne Museum.

The Curator has said that he believes your specimen is Megachile ferox, one of the leaf cutter bees.

Kind Regards, Simon.

Thankyou Simon. You have no idea how it pleases me to be able to give it a name. I have watched its daily flight, admired its fuzzy orange bottom and fluffy forehead, but without it's name it as if I have not truly known it. I am a huge fan of the author Ursula LeGuin, this is a quote from the Wizard of Earthsea as she describes the study of wizardry (well before Harry Potter):

"Ged sighed sometimes, but he did not complain.  He saw in this dusty and fathomless matter of learning the true name of each place, thing, and being, the power he wanted lay like a jewel at the bottom of a dry well.  For magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing".

What a fine, grand sounding name, Megachiles ferox. I love Latin names, the lolloping way they roll off the tongue, and the truth they hold within them. Chiles comes from the Greek word cheilos, meaning lip or edge. Perhaps referring to its leaf cutting ways. Ferox is latin for fierce, wild. Fierce seems a strange description, as this has been a tame bee, never bothered by our watchful eyes, gloriously fluffy,  it apparently only has a mild sting if handled. I wondered what prompted the scientist who discovered it to use ferox.

The common name, Leaf Cutter Bee, is apt.  Look below to see what they can do to a leaf. I will now be hunting my garden for signs of these distinctive perfect semi circle cuts, and I can give their creator a name. Leaf Cutter Bees are solitary, the female uses these leaves to build a cigar like nest that she places a single egg inside. The nests are hidden inside rotting wood, crevices and hollow twigs and stems. Such different behaviour to that of the honey bee.

Leaf-cutter bees snip regular-shaped pieces from soft leaves and use them to make their nest cells. Oblong pieces are used to make the sides of a cell and round pieces are used to cap them.

The cigar-like nest of a leaf-cutter bee removed from in fold in a curtain. This nest is composed of several individual cells staked end on end.

Leaf cutter bees also have a reputation for being great pollinators and are used by farmers to increase yields of lucerne and alfalfa.

Now I know you a little more, I am even more enchanted, Megachiles ferox. I'm even tempted to build you a nest box.

Look how one is using this gum nut, shows the importance of being a bit messy in the garden, to leave nooks and crannies for all the critters.

Leafcutter Bee | Megachile sp photo


  1. That is so interesting, I love reading your posts on little critters! I had not heard of Ursula LeGuin until I saw the movie The Jane Austen Book Club. The character Grigg played by Hugh Dancy is a fan of her work.

  2. Wow...how interesting...and so proactive of you to seek the info!!! love that gorgeous pic too!

    1. Thanks Jode, not knowing with plants and animals is like an unscratched itch for me.

  3. That is a great service, I love the museum even more knowing they give out such fab information.

  4. I have seen small native bees in my garden but being allergic to them I stay well clear of them. I am interested in them, both my father and brother have hives and we enjoy their honey. I didn't know of this particular type, a solitary one i thought they would all live in hives..........you learn something new everyday.........thanks.


In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.
Margaret Atwood

“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
"Winter is dead.”
― A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young