- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
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.