Carpenter Bees: The Gentle Giants

Some Bees, including the peaceful Carpenter

Click thumbnail to view full-size
"Whachoo doing around here anyhoo!?"Carpenter Bee at workHole with carpenter bee nest in old treeTypical bumble beeMegachile Pluto...great name for world's largest bee
"Whachoo doing around here anyhoo!?"
"Whachoo doing around here anyhoo!?"
Carpenter Bee at work
Carpenter Bee at work
Hole with carpenter bee nest in old tree
Hole with carpenter bee nest in old tree
Typical bumble bee
Typical bumble bee
Megachile Pluto...great name for world's largest bee
Megachile Pluto...great name for world's largest bee

He's calm and curious

The Beloved Carpenter Bees.

You can be standing somewhere on the South Baja Peninsula in Mexico minding your own business and enjoying the morning sunshine, when suddenly you are confronted by a large, black insect hovering about 6 inches from your flinching face and seeming to peer earnestly into your eyes. The uninitiated might yelp, bat at the intruder and backpedal right into the waiting arms of an obliging cholla cactus, which will do more immediate damage than any bee.

For that is what this gentle creature is, a Carpenter Bee and about twice as big as any bumble bee you have ever seen before - up to 25 mm in length. They are from the family Xylocopa, and there are more than 500 species all over the planet.

Carpenters can sting, as can the similar bumble bees, but you would really have to upset one before it did. It’s the stingless male bee that does the hovering; he is just curious about you; if you keep still, it will hover in place for a few seconds and then zoom away to find a more interesting subject for its attentions. It may have been seeing if you were made of wood to make a nest, or it liked the smell of your perfume. Or it might have been amazed that something as ugly as you could exist without the rest of your species removing you! Most likely is its persistent attention could have been a mild warning that you were too near its existing tunnel.

Carpenter Bees are often confused with the generally smaller Bumble Bees. Usually, the carpenter has the shiny abdomen while the bumble, the hairy one. The carpenters are also more soberly colored, often black, while bumble bees are often yellow or orange or even striped. Like bumble bees, the carpenters are capable of multiple stinging; only the female has a sting and will rarely use it unless her nest is threatened, they are usually extremely placid even when you gently shoo them away, unlike bloody wasps!

Carpenter Bees, as the name suggests, are wood bees, in that they make a tunnel into a suitable tree or building, adding chambers inside. They don’t eat wood, however, sticking to pollen and nectar. They are mainly solitary, but some female members of a family may share one nest, a separate compartment for each daughter or sibling. They can do considerable damage to older, weathered buildings, but a coat of paint will keep them out. Similarly, trees with bark attached won’t be of interest to them. They dig with strong mandibles while vibrating their bodies, leaving a tell-tale pile of sawdust and dirt at the foot of the tree or timber where they have tunneled. Several smaller species nest in the ground in burrows.

Carpenter bees are, like all bees, very important pollinators: in Baja California, this means they are vital to the cactus as it flowers.

Notes

The Carpenter bee is not seen as the largest bee. This honor goes to the Indonesian bee, Megachile Pluto, which had been thought extinct until discoveries were made later. This is as big as the smallest hummingbird: up to 2 inches long with a wingspan of over 3 inches. That’s some bee!

Incidentally, you may have Melissophobia if you are alarmed by the carpenter or any bee, and the more understandable Spheksophobia if you run screaming from wasps. I might add that I have no fear of bees, hornets or wasps and have never been stung aggressively by any of them…too ugly maybe? (“If you think I am going to put my nice shiny stinger in THAT, Beatrice...I wouldn't touch it with yours!”)

More by this Author

  • Ants May Rule the World.
    18

    Antsy About Ants? Maybe You Should Be! If there is any one creature tipped to take over the earth after man’s demise, it is the ant. In fact, they could probably do so now if the thought occurred to them, and if...

  • LONOMIA OBLIQUA:  The Killer Caterpillar
    79

    LONOMIA, the Killer Caterpillar This is an interesting letter I have just received from an actual victim of the caterpillar and added to article.  I thought it so germane to the danger of Lonomia to head the...

  • Owls:  Creatures of Magic and Legend.
    15

    Owls: The Stuff of Magic and Legend. The Owl, by Robert Challen de Mercer (From Charged Particles) “All the forest dwellers take fright, At the silent ruler of the night. Wily hunter with steely...


Comments 13 comments

Lady Guinevere profile image

Lady Guinevere 6 years ago from West Virginia

I love in the Mid-Atlantic region of the US. I have one or two of these creatures. You might find this strange, but I talk to them and they do listen. I am not afraid of them either and they are wonderful creatures and they seem to have an intelligence about them.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hello Lady G. I find this so true of many so called simple life forms, it's almost as if there is another language in the universe that doesn't depend on ordinary communication. I have found this with spiders and even house flies. It must come from a much earlier time. Thanks for comments...Bob


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for such an interesting hub. I glad I could learn about them. As for the last bit -- are you hunting for compliments hahaha


thevoice profile image

thevoice 6 years ago from carthage ill

great hub always learning thanks


Lady Guinevere profile image

Lady Guinevere 6 years ago from West Virginia

If you really just stand still and not be afraid and try to be them, eventually you will have an understanding or type of communication with them. For me though, I still don't like spiders, but will, if they permit me too, try to get them on a piece of paper and put them outside. That is if my cats don't get to them first and then they are toast. To cats they are a FREE play toy. I hate killing anything even these Stink Bugs we are being attacked by in my house. They are driving me crazy. The cats don't even like to play with them.


theherbivorehippi profile image

theherbivorehippi 6 years ago from Holly, MI

I love this hub! As much as I am terrified of bees (allergic) I find them fascinating. I have been studying up a bit on them and have learned so many intriguing things about them. Great hub...rated up!


diogenes profile image

diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Thank you so much for your interest and kind comments, hubbers...I am overwhelmed...Bob


GarnetBird profile image

GarnetBird 6 years ago from Northern California

Nice Hub-I am a fan of the Mt. yellow-faced Bumblebee!


diogenes profile image

diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

I love the industrious, furry bumble bees in the summer on the lavendar bushes in their hundreds sending up quite a symphony of muted buzzing. Bob


margot723 4 years ago

I love them. I find myself talking to them only to watch them zoom away and come back...like a little kid gone bashful but SO happy you made much of them...definitey intelligence there. I had one land on my outstretched hand yesterday. My husband and mother-in-law have to think about the reality of the situation as we live in a log cabin...but they do not do that much structural damage and they are awesome pollinators. Does anyone know if honey bees and carpenter bees have been cross bred?


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hello Margot. They do not cross breed as far as anyone knows. That's an honor having one land on you...mabe to aplogize about making a hole in your house. I think all wild creatures semse our "aura," in that they sense whether we are benign or aggressive.

Bob


ROBERTHEWETTSR profile image

ROBERTHEWETTSR 4 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Thanks for this very useful and entertaining explanation of the often misunderstood Carpenter Bee. However, I prefer the Bumble Bee because he usually makes his nest in a tree instead of boring a hole in the rafters in my storage sheds. I invite you to read my story poem about a Bumble Bee. I will be following you and reading more. Robert


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Thanks for visit Robert I will get to your poem on the bumble bee, lovely creatures all

Bob

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working