Oh, that cuddly teddy bear.
The male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, also known as "the teddy bear bee," comes around occasionally to nectar our broadleaf milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, in our pollinator garden.
The milkweed is the larval host of the monarch butterfly, but other insects, including the honey bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, and butterflies, stop by to sip some nectar.
The male Valley carpenter bee joined the party, and what a party it was. He bluffed his way past the other insects--boy bees do not sting as they have no stinger, as native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, says.
A monarch fluttered in for a little nectar, too, but the teddy bear bee refused to budge.
When you're big, hungry, and a bluffer, you can do that.
If you've never seen the "teddy bear bee," keep an eye out for it.
A fuzzy golden bee with green eyes, it's the male Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta). Last Friday we saw it foraging in the half-acre Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis. It decidedly preferred the foothill penstemon, Penstemon heterophyllus.
Gold on purple. Purple on gold. It seemed like royalty.
It paid no attention to the photographer. It proceeded to "rob the nectar," that is, drill a hole in the outside of the corolla in its short cut to reach the nectar, thus bypassing the usual method of pollination.
It looked huge. That's because it is. At one inch long, Xylocopa varipuncta is considered the largest bee found in California. The species is also a striking example of sexual biphorism--the female is solid black while the male is blond.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished professor of entomology at UC Davis, enjoys showing the teddy bear bee to folks at open houses at the haven and Bohart Museum of Entomology and at other special events.
"It's a male and can't sting you," he assures cautious onlookers "Males have no stingers."
The Valley carpenter bee, so-called because it's common in the Central Valley of California, is one of our native bees. Its range includes an area from western New Mexico to southern California.
Look for it, too, in the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, located west of the central campus and operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The garden is open to the public--free admission and free parking--from dawn to dusk.
You might see it on the penstemon and on the passionflower vine.
If you've ever wanted to taste exotic honeys (of course, you have!) and if you've ever wondered why native bees don't make honey (you have, haven't you?), then you're in luck.
The Honey and Pollination Center at the University of California, Davis, is hosting an international honey tasting event on Tuesday, April 5 in the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science (RMI) Sensory Theater, and you're invited.
The event, billed as The World of Honey--International Honey Tasting, will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at RMI, located on Old Davis Road, UC Davis campus.
Participants will experience four exotic international honeys: stingless bee honey from Brazil, coffee blossom from Guatemala, Viper's Bugloss from New Zealand, and chestnut honey from France.
Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center, will lead the tasting. The event opens with a short talk and PowerPoint on stingless bees and native bees by Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"Stingless bees were raised by the Mayans for honey," Harris says. "Today stingless bee honey production is very low."
In his talk,Thorp will discuss the diversity of bees (20,000 species in the world) and why most bees do not produce honey. He also will cover "which ones produce honey that we do harvest, primarily bees of the genus Apis and some of the many stingless bees."
Student tickets are $12.50, while tickets for UC Davis affiliates are $25, and $30 for the general public. To registrar, access the Honey and Pollination Center website at https://registration.ucdavis.edu/Item/Details/190 or contact Elizabeth Luu at email@example.com or Amina Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org. The last day to register online is Sunday, April 3.
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"