It's an incredible photo.
Nicole "Nikki" Nicola, a staff research associate in the Frank Zalom lab in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, University California, Davis, captured an image in her back yard of both the male and female Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) sharing the same passionflower (Passiflora).
Most of us often see--and hear--the solid black female, but not so much the green-eyed blond male. And rarely together.
But to see them on the same flower? What a great example of sexual dimorphism!
Nicola works with Zalom, an integrated pest management specialist and distinguished professor of entomology. A noted entomologist, he is a past president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America.
As for those Valley carpenter bees, the next time you see the female frequenting the Passiflora, check out those tiny grains of golden pollen. They look for all the world like gold dust.
Valley carpenter bees are found in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
They're not bumble bees. They're not scary. But well, they ARE big. About an inch long.
The Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) is the largest bee in California. The female is solid black with metallic wings. In a great example of sexual dimorphism, the male looks nothing like the female. It's a green-eyed blond, fondly known as "the teddy bear" bee because it's fuzzy-wuzzy and cannot sting. (See Bug Squad photo of the teddy bear bee.) "Boy bees can't sting because they have no stingers," native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is fond of saying at UC Davis open houses and area workshops.
But it was the female we were checking out last weekend. She buzzed from the blanket flower (Gaillardia) to the lavender patch and clung to a blossom.
A honey bee seeking the same nectar landed next to her. Talk about size comparison! Neither seemed to mind the presence of the other. Plenty of nectar. Plenty of time. Plenty of work to do.
When the honey bee finally left--"I'm outta here!"--the Valley carpenter bee climbed to the top of the stem as if claiming it. "This is mine! This is all mine."
Most of its prey are honey bees, sunflower bees or hover flies foraging in the nearby lavender.
One wrap, however, looked like it contained a huge black bee, the Valley carpenter bee. It was either that or a bumble bee!
We decided to find out. With a toothpick, we borrowed the prey from the spider (it already had 21 wrapped prey and wouldn't miss it).Taking a toothpick, we carefully pulled back the sticky silk cover.
Yes, it was a Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta), a female. The Xylocopa varipuncta females are solid black while the males are blond with green eyes. You've probably seen these bees buzzing around your yard or in a park. The largest bees in California, they're about an inch long. They're named the "Valley carpenter bee" because they're common in the Central Valley.
They're pollinators but some folks consider them pests. Using their mandibles, the females tunnel through wood, such as fence posts and telephone poles, to make their nests. They prefer untreated wood so if you varnish your wood, they'll probably look elsewhere. They do not ingest the wood. Sometimes they'll drill a hole in a dead or dying tree.
This one apparently couldn't exit the sticky web before the predator approached it and delivered its venomous bite.
Fortunately, it wasn't the yellow-faced bumble bee we've seen nectaring on the butterfly bush!
We all take shortcuts.
We look for the shortest line at the supermarket, we use keyboard shortcuts, and we text ”how r u?”
So, why shouldn't honey bees use shortcuts? They do.
If you've ever watched a carpenter bee drill a hole in the corolla of a tubed flower to get at the nectar—this is "nectar robbing" or bypassing pollination—you may have seen a honey bee come along and sip nectar from the hole. Why work hard to get at the nectar when it's right there for the taking?
This is the insect version of a convenience market!
Take the foxgloves (family Plantaginaceae, genus Digitalis). Sometimes you'll see a honey bee trailing or shadowing a carpenter bee that moves from corolla to corolla.
Short cut to the nectar!
Valley carpenter bees are passionate about passionflower vines (Passiflora).
You see these black bees foraging on the blossoms. Tiny grains of golden pollen, looking like gold dust, dot the thorax.
Their loud buzz frightens many a person, but wait, they're pollinators.
Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) are found in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis.
These carpenter bees are large (about the size of a queen bumble bee). The females are solid black, while the males are golden/buff-colored with green eyes.
We receive scores of calls about "golden bumble bees." They're the male Valley carpenter bees, sometimes nicknamed "Teddy bears."
The females are the only ones we've seen in the passionflower vines, though.
The males? They must be cruising somewhere else, patrolling for females.
Most of the time we see female Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) laying their eggs on the leaves, and male Gulf Frits searching for females.