- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
When you think of a teddy bear, you think of a huggable stuffed animal.
Not so entomologists. When they think of a teddy bear, they think of the male Valley carpenter bee.
It's a green-eyed, fluffy golden insect that's nicknamed "teddy bear." You can hug it, too. Unlike the females, male carpenter bees don't sting.
When a Davis resident recently cut down a plum tree, hordes of buzzing insects tumbled out. Seeking identification, the resident carted a chunk of the wood and the golden insects into the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
What were they?
“Male carpenter bees, Xylocopa varipuncta, also known as Valley carpenter bees,” said entomologist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
“Some of us refer to these males as ‘teddy bear’ bees, because of their yellowish-brownish color and fuzzy burly bodies,” said UC Davis emeritus entomology professor Robbin Thorp, who studies pollinators. “The females are all black with violaceous (violet) reflections on their dark wings.”
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. Only the females excavate the tunnels, which average six to 10 inches in depth.
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,” he said. “That far outweighs any damage to wood structures.”
California is home to three carpenter bee species. I've seen X. tabaniformis orpifex buzzing around my backyard but never The Golden One.
What a gorgeous insect!