Posts Tagged: carpenter bee
Catching up with the carpenters is not always easy.
Not the construction workers--the carpenter bees.
They move fast as they buzz from flower to flower.
California is home to three carpenter bee species, says native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
You can find Xylocopa varipuncta in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico. It is large (about the size of a queen bumble bee). The females are all black, while the miles are golden/buff-colored with green eyes. The males are commonly known as "teddy bears."
X. californica is right at home in the foothills surrounding the Central Valley, the Transverse Ranges (Los Angeles) of southern California, and areas of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. They are large, nearly the size of X. varipuncta, but with distinctive bluish metallic reflections on their body. Females have dark smokey brown wings.
X. tabaniformis orpifex resides in most of the same areas as X. californica, but extends more into the center of the Central Valley. It is the smallest of the three species--about half the size of the other two carpenter bees. Females are all black with light smokey-colored wings. The males have light yellow hair on their face and thorax.
Carpenter bees, so named for their ability to tunnel through wood to make their nests, carve with their mandibles (jaws) but do not ingest the wood.
Thorp says he tries to convince people to learn to live with these bees as “they are important pollinators in our environment and have potential as pollinators of some crops.”
“Carpenter bees are beneficial in that they pollinate flowers in native plant communities and gardens. That far outweighs any damage to wood structures.”
“These bees are not currently managed for crop pollination,” Thorp said, “but there have been some recent studies of their potential for pollination of greenhouse tomatoes. They are good at buzz pollination and can be managed by providing suitable nest materials.”
Due to their large size, carpenter bees cannot enter tubelike blossoms such as sage, so they slit the base of corolla, a practice known as “robbing the nectar” (without pollinating the flower).
We caught up with two carpenter bees (below) robbing nectar.
Male Carpenter Bee
Female Carpenter Bee
To catch a carpenter bee...
The carpenter bees (Xylocopa tabaniformis) that nectar the sage, lavender, catmint and coral bells in our bee friendly garden move fast.
How fast? As fast as a buzz. They buzz into a blur and then back into a buzz.
Oh, but there are ways to capture their images. Consider not just the camera, but the time of day, the habitat, and your presence.
Camera: A macro lens will enable you to get up close. Remove the lens hood so you can get even closer. Like people, carpenter bees don't like being poked with sharp metal objects. Skip the tripod. It's too cumbersome to haul around on insect safaris. Use a flash to stop the action and provide a sharper depth of field.
Time of Day: Shoot early in the morning when the sun hasn't quite warmed them. They don't fly as fast then. They are cold-blooded so their body reflects the temperature around them.
Habitat: Know what they like. In our yard, they gravitate toward the lavender, but they like to mix it up with sage, catmint and coral bells. The pomegranate, citrus, tomato and squash blossoms don't interest them as much as they do me.
Your Presence: There are several rules here. Watch where they go and station yourself there. Make them come to you. Assure them them that hey, you're just part of the scenery. (You don't have to wear a t-shirt that says "I'm Just Part of the Scenery.") Keep low, preferably at their level. Do not shadow them. If they buzz off, not to worry. Like Arnold, they'll be "b-a-a-c-k."
Added Attractant: Sometimes you can dab a little honey or sugar water on a blossom to ensure that they stay a little longer. I'm saving this one for autumn, when the nectar subsides.
Oh, one more thing. If you have a entomologically inclined cat, make sure the feline is not around to disrupt their flight patterns.
But that would make an interesting photo, too.
Caught in Flight
Head in the Blossom
If you like squash, you have a bee to thank.
Without bees, no pollination. Without pollination, no squash.
Honey bees in California pollinate some 100 agricultural crops, including fruits, nuts and vegetables. One of them is squash.
When a squash blossom burst open last weekend in our garden, a honey bee buzzed inside, shadowed by a carpenter bee.
The carpenter bee chased off the honey bee, but not for long. The honey bee returned to roll in the pollen, victorious.
A victory in the garden. Does that make it a victory garden?
Carpenter Bee and Honey Bee
Covered in Pollen
"Gossamer" means something sheer, light and delicate, as in gossamer fabric.
You can also apply it to the wings of a carpenter bee.
We captured this image of a male carpenter bee (Xylocopa tabaniformis) nectaring on lavender.
The wings look sheer, fragile and airy. Note the thorax brushed with pollen.
On Gossamer Wings
It wasn't the Battle of the Sexes.
It was the Battle of the Males.
I spotted two male carpenter bees buzzing loudly over the salvia (sage) in our back yard Saturday morning. Each was lying in wait for a female, but instead found a competitor.
Now male carpenter bees are quite territorial and these two were no exception. The would-be suitors chased one another all over the yard, from saliva to salvia. One would buzz into a blossom for a quick nectar fix and the other would aggressively chase it away.
One stopped long enough, however, for me to capture his photo.
Ol' Blue Eyes.
UC Davis entomologist-pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, professor emeritus, identified this male as a Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex Smith
It's the most common carpenter bee in the Davis area, Thorp said. "It loves to nest in redwood structures: fences, arbors, picnic tables, etc. It is the smallest of the three carpenter bees in California. The males are quite variable in hair color on the thorax: from virtually all dark, to some yellow in front of the wing bases, to virtually all yellow on top."
Another carpenter bee increasingly found in the Davis area is the valley carpenter bee. The sighting of the male, a green-eyed fuzzy yellow "teddy bear," prompts lots of calls to the UC Davis Department of Entomology. "What is it?" they ask.
We point them to our Web page for the scoop on the three types of carpenter bees found in California.
As spring unfolds, expect to see more of them.
Ol' Blue Eyes
Ol' Green Eyes