A Quilting Bee

My first thought when I saw the neat circles cut from the leaves of my crepe myrtles was that here was the work of a “quilting bee” bee. Pioneer women, and modern ladies too, would gather and cut patterns from whatever fabric they could find and stitch them together in a systematic way to create works of art as well as comfort.

Pioneer women at a quilting bee which was both a practical and a social experience.

Photo courtesy of www.indulgy.com.

                Consider the leaf-cutting bee of which there are at least 600 varieties in North America and several very important imported species. This solitary bee searches for smooth, healthy leaves and uses its serrated jaws to precisely cut a near-perfect circle segment from a rose leaf, a crepe-myrtle leaf, or any other tender leaf within a few hundred feet of its earth burrow or likely a hole in a tree or house. It never digs the hole like a carpenter bee but chooses an existing excavation to raise a family. I found a fabric quilt dedicated to the leaf-cutter and it perfectly links the bee to the quilting party.

Circle cuts and quilting bees in a classic quilt.

Photo courtesy of www.pinterest.com

                The damage done to the rose or myrtle is aesthetic only as no permanent harm is done. The bee cuts a perfect arc and then carries it to her home to wrap her eggs and emerging pupae in a warm and surely soothing quilt composed of a dozen or more of the leafy cutouts. Here is an image of my crepe myrtles and note the precision of the cut and an almost complete circle is shown in the lower center.


Crepe Myrtles with bee cuts.

           At first, I suspected ants were the culprit as National Geographic has shown many fungus-growing ant documentaries but apparently, leaf-cutting ants live in Texas and points south. Our native bee, according to the University of Georgia and other reference experts belongs to the genus Megachile of which there are dozens of species in Georgia. One, in particular, is Megachile latamanus and note in the below photo that leafcutters do not have pouches on their legs but instead have a very hairy belly which collects and distributes pollen as they feed on many varieties of wildflowers. The pointed head, large narrow eyes, and hairy abdomen are characteristic identifiers. As a comparison, I have included a photo of a honey bee and you can see the smaller eyes, leg sacks, and lack of abdomen hair. Leaf-cutting bees are solitary, produce no honey, but do have a potent sting. They weave their tapestry together with saliva and end up with a collection of semi-circle patterns in a narrow tube to protect the young bee pupae.

Leaf-Cutter bee – note the furry abdomen and lack of pollen sacks.

Megachile Bee Photo courtesy of www.keys.lucidcentral.org.

Honey Bee loaded with pollen.

Honey Bee courtesy of www.gettyimages.com.

                                It is amazing to think about a bee cutting a perfect circle and somehow balancing itself to maintain the circle center with a constant radius. They don’t learn that task by watching other leaf-cutters at work – it is pure instinct as opposed to quilting by humans which is a learned activity and perfected by practice. Can you imagine a young bee in its first circle cutting venture constructing a square?

                As a final tribute to the leaf-cutter, I found a photo of a “quilting” bee in the cutting act. Note how the bee balances and uses its body length to create a near perfect circle.

Quilting or Leaf-Cutter Bee in action.

Photo courtesy of www.habeetats.com.

Perhaps “SuperBee” would be a more appropriate name!

Carrying the circle back to its “cave” is no easy chore. Note the large mandibles.

Photo courtesy of www.pinterest.com

A finished “Bee Quilt”!

And finally, a sample of the finished quilt!

Photo courtesy of http://www.arkive.com

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