I've been waiting for a decade to see a male Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) foraging in our family bee garden.
The girls? Oh, yes. We see them every day. Sometimes half a dozen at a time. They're usually on the salvia or passionflower vine.
The boys? No. They do not go where our girls are. I saw a solo fly-by a couple of years ago, but he did not stop.
Then last Saturday, a male Valley carpenter bee dropped down and nectared on the foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), the dwarf bulbine (Bulbine frutescens), the catmint (Nepeta) and the blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora).
In that order.
To be honest, a very territorial European male carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) chased him off the foxgloves, so our big boy headed for the catmint and then the blanket flower, where he encountered only docile honey bees.
The male Xylocopa varipuncta is the insect that results in so many similar calls--"I found a golden bumble bee! Is it a new species?" A bumble bee it is not. A carpenter bee it is.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, calls the male Valley carpenter bees "teddy bears." That's because they're green-eyed, blond and fuzzy-wuzzy. Thorp reminds curious kids and apprehensive adults that "boy bees can't sting."
Thorp often displays a female Valley carpenter bee (solid black) alongside the blond male to show the sexual dimorphism, or what Wikipedia explains is a phenotypic differentiation between males and females of the same species.
The Boy Wonder is sort of like a blond Marilyn Monroe male courting a Clarkette Gable.
What happened when the Boy Wonder left the blanket flower? He returned to the foxgloves.
Just briefly. Until the wool carder bee targeted him again.
"Golden boy?" A male Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) to be exact. This carpenter bee is usually mistaken for a bumble bee but a bumble bee it is not. It's a male Valley carpenter bee. And the females of this species are solid black.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, provided information to wide-eyed youngsters as he held the golden carpenter bees, what he calls "the teddy bear bees." They look and feel soft and cuddly, just like a teddy bear.
The questions flew.
Visitor: "Does it sting?"
Thorp: ""No, boy bees don't sting. They don't have a stinger."
Visitor: "Why does he act like he's going to sting me?"
Thorp: "He's bluffing. He's trying to make you think he can sting."
Visitor: "Do carpenter bees make honey?"
Thorp: "No, honey bees make honey."
Visitor: "Can I touch it?"
Thorp: "Yes, can you feel it vibrating?"
Visitor: "Does it die after it mates?"
Thorp: "No, it can mate again. A drone (male) honey bee dies after mating, but not carpenter bees."
Visitor: "What are you going to do with it afterwards?"
Thorp: "Release it back into the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven (a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road that's operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology)."
Fact is, it's a pollinator. Keep your eyes open for it and other pollinators on May 8. That's when the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) is conducting "Operation Pollination," one of three events on a Day of Science and Service. Your help is needed. Wherever you are in California--at work or at play--allow three minutes to count the pollinators around you. That could be honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies, sweat bees, syrphid flies, carpenter bees, bats and the like. Take some photos, too. Then register the data and upload your photos on the UC ANR web page.
We suspect that if and when the nearly 5000 visitors who attended the Bohart Museum open house, catch a glimpse of a "golden boy" on May 8, they'll know exactly what it is, whatever they choose to call it.
- Male Valley carpenter bee
- Xylocopa varipuncta
- Boy bee
- Golden boy
- "Teddy bear bee"
It's a sure sign of spring when we see "the teddy bear bee."
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, calls the male Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) "the teddy bear bee."
An apt description, to be sure. It's gold with green eyes and is often mistaken for "a golden bumble bee." It isn't. It's a carpenter bee. The female of the species is solid black.
Yes, they're pollinators.
Thorp netted one of the teddy bear bees March 12 in front of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, and saved it for doctoral graduate student Margaret "Rei" Scampavia and yours truly to photograph for a quick catch-and-release session.
We placed it on a germander bush in the nearby Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. The boy bee. The blue blossoms. Bee Biology Road.
And oh, those green eyes!
Soon the little fellow abruptly fled our photo session, soaring high above our heads and never looking back.
Probably to meet up with the girls.
Lots of youngsters received teddy bears as holiday gifts.
But native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, received a teddy bear, too.
A male valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta), aka "teddy bear," recently visited his Davis home during the long holiday season. "We found it behind the couch," he said.
It's a green-eyed blond and fuzzy just like a teddy bear, thus its name. The female are solid black.
To the untrained eye, the male is often thought to be "a new species, a golden bumble bee." We get scores of telephone calls asking what this "big yellow bumble bee" is. A bumble bee, it isn't. A carpenter bee, it is.
Every time I see the females buzzing around, I think "Can the 'teddy bears' be far behind?"
I saw one zipping through our garden last summer but it never stopped long enough for me to capture its image.
But with Thorp's "teddy bear," I could. It's in his refrigerator, spending part of the winter there. Soon, he said, he'll give it a little honey.
If you don't know what it is, don't kill it.
That insect in your garden could very well be a beneficial insect.
If you operate on the "shoot-first-ask-questions later" or "the only good bug is a dead bug," no telling how many insects--and generations--you'll be destroying.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, tells this story that's worth remembering.
"Last week I was walking across Capitol Park in Sacramento when I observed a smartly dressed young woman in her 20s stomp a praying mantis and grind it into the sidewalk. She exclaimed to her phenotypically similar friend: 'Did you ever see such an ugly, icky bug?'"
And, many years ago, Shapiro encountered a man in College Park, Davis, in the act of stomping a Tiger Swallowtail.
Shapiro asked him why he was doing this.
The man replied: "This is the bug that has the big green caterpillar that eats my tomato plants!"
When Shapiro told him it wasn't, the man told him to check his information, and that "I'm right and you're wrong."
There is indeed a lot of misinformation and misidentification out there.
Tabatha Yang of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis relates the story about an avid gardener who absolutely loved ladybugs (aka lady beetles) because of their voracious appetites for aphids. But when our avid gardener came across "some weird black and orange bugs," she promptly killed them.
Little did she know that she was killing immature ladybugs.
Then there's the story about a UC Master Gardener who encountered a "green-eyed golden bumblebee-like" insect that frightened her because it buzzed so loudly around her flower beds. So, she killed it. Turns out it was a pollinator, a male Valley carpenter bee, also known as a "teddy bear."
And, can you imagine what goes through people's minds when they meet up with a Jerusalem cricket in the mud after a rain? Whoa! Bug-o-mania!
Here's where the Bohart Museum, 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, UC Davis campus, can help. If you live in California and see an insect and wonder if it's beneficial insect or a pest--or just want to know what it is--take a photo of it and email it to the Bohart. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum (home of more than seven million specimens) and professor of entomology at UC Davis, identifies insects in between research, teaching, administering the Bohart Museum, and other duties. Her email address: email@example.com.
Maybe, just maybe, this will save a few praying mantids, ladybugs, Valley carpenter bees and Jerusalem crickets./span>