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.
A gold rush of sorts.
When the female Valley carpenter bees forage among the passion flowers (Passiflora), they turn from solid black to a mixture of gold and black.
The pollen on their head, thorax and abdomen stands out like magical gold dust, as if sprinkled by the Good Fairy.
On a recent photo expedition in west Vacaville, we watched Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanilla) colonize a passionflower vine (Passiflora incaranata). Meanwhile, these huge Valley carpenter bees buzzed in and out of the purple-centered white flowers.
A golden opportunity, to be sure.
"Just wanna be your teddy bear..."
When Elvis Presley sang that, his fans swooned.
Well, there are bee fans that can't get enough of the "teddy bear" bee, aka the male Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta).
It's often called a "golden bumble bee." Golden, it is. Bumble bee, it is not.
The female of this carpenter bee species is solid black.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, spotted this male Valley carpenter bee yesterday in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research at UC Davis. He does research in the half-acre bee friendly garden. (By the way, it's located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus, and is open from dawn to dusk. There's no admission.)
We at UC Davis periodically receive phone calls about "golden bumble bees." The green-eyed, golden-haired carpenter bee does attract a lot of attention.
"Oh, let me be, your teddy bear."
Or better yet, let me "bee" your teddy bear.
Maybe not so nice to have around your untreated patio or fences (as they drill holls in them to make their nests) but just think of them as pollinators, not pests.
As native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, says: "Carpenter bees are beneficial in that they pollinate flowers in native plant communities and gardens. That far outweighs any damage to wood structures.”
We receive many calls and emails about carpenter bees. Many folks just want to know "what that loud buzz is" or "what's sharing our garden."The other day we received an email from a carpenter bee enthusiast in Patterson who wanted to know how to keep attracting them to her garden.
She inquired: "I had a couple of female bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) visit my garden this summer, but they seemed only interested in Salvia apiana and citrus flowers. Do you have any idea of other flowers that might interest them (I would like to keep them around longer)? Prefer California native plants."
Thorp responded: "Xylocopa varipuncta is a generalist flower visitor and has been recorded from a number of different kinds of flowers. Some natives you might consider include: Asclepias, Salvia, Trichostema, and Wislizenia for nectar; Eschscholzia and Lupinus for pollen.
Asclepias? The milkweeds. Salvia? Sages. Trichostema? The culinary herbs such as basil, mint, rosemary, oregano, lavender, and thyme. Wislizenia? Think Wislizenia refracta, also called by its common name, jackass clover. Eschscholzia? California poppies. Lupinus? Lupines.
In our yard, carpenter bees are partial to a variety of native and non-native plants, including salvia, lavender, catmint, rock purslane, purple oregano and African blue basil. They also like the golden day lilies and poppies.