Some folks call them "bumble bees," but they're not.
In size, the female Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) resembles a bumble bee, but certainly not in color.
The female Valley carpenter is solid black with metallic wings. The male of the species is a green-eyed blond, fondly known as "the teddy bear" bee because it's fuzzy-wuzzy and cannot sting. Entomologists will tell you that the male and female are dramatic examples of sexual dimorphism. Yes, they are!
We've been seeing a lot of female Valley carpenter bees lately on our blue spike salvia, (Salvia uliginosa). They engage in nectar-robbing: this occurs when bees circumvent the usual plant-pollinator relationship and "cheat" by entering a flower from the outside to steal nectar. They drill a hole in the corolla to reach the nectar, thus avoiding pollination or contact with the anthers.
Similar-looking insects include bumble bees, cactus flies and horse flies, according to California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists,by UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville, and Barbara Ertter. "Carpenter bees are shinier and have less hair than fuzzy bumble bees. Carpenter bees have two pairs of wings, and they have long, slender, elbowed antennae, while fly mimics have only one pair of wings, and short stubby antennae."
The Valley carpenter bee is California's largest carpenter bee.
They're large but they're elusive. They usually don't linger long for you to grab a photo. This one did. It was early in the morning, and like a true human morning person, she declined to move fast./span>
Meet the competitors.
In this corner, meet Mr. Teddy Bear. He's a blond, green-eyed carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, a native, and one of three species of carpenter bees commonly found from northern to southern California to western New Mexico.
In the other corner, meet Mr. Bodyslam. He's a European wool carder bee, Anthidium manicatum, a native of Europe. His "immigrant ancestor" was first detected in the United States (New York) in 1963, and the species spread west. The carder bee (so named because the female "cards" fuzz from plants for her nest) was first recorded in California (Sunnyvale) in 2007.
The competitors meet on foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, which yields dramatic pink-purple fingerlike flowers (and medicine for heart patients).
Mr. Teddy Bear is famished. He's doing what entomologists call "nectar robbing." He's drilling a hole in the corolla and drinking nectar, bypassing the usual plant-pollinator relationship. He's grabbing the reward and "cheating" by entering the flower from the outside, avoiding contact with the anthers.
Mr. Bodyslam is territorial. He's patrolling the foxglove patch--HIS foxglove patch--trying to save the nectar for his own species so he can mate with them. When he sees intruders, he targets them.
So here's Mr. Teddy Bear, drilling and sipping, sipping and drilling. Life is good.
"Hey, get away from my flowers and nobody gets hurt! They're mine!"
"Hey, I'm bigger than you. Get lost."
And the battle begins.
The winner, in this corner, Mr. Teddy Bear. He successfully avoided contact by crawling between the flowers (where Mr. Bodyslam couldn't reach him) and then sneaking to the corolla.
But once--just once--contact erupted. Ouch!
The boys are back in town!
Well, at least one is. We don't know where the girls are. Neither, apparently, does he.
A male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, aka "the teddy bear bee," buzzed into our mustard patch Sunday and nectared on the blossoms for about 10 minutes.
Often mistaken for a "new species" of bumble bee--well, it's about the size of a bumble bee--the teddy bear bee is a lavish golden color with sea-green eyes. The female of the species is a solid black metallic color with dark eyes. Sexual dimorphism at its finest...
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, often showcases the teddy bear bee at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open houses, including the annual UC Davis Picnic Day. This year, the 104th annual, takes place on Saturday, April 21.
When apprehensive youngsters see the bee in his hands, he assures them "Boy bees don't sting."
They don't, but sometimes they posture as if they do...
In real life, insects "get" milkweed.
We all know it's the only host plant of the monarch butterfly--where monarchs lay their eggs--but it's also a a great source of nectar for butterflies and other insects.
Take the showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa. Native to California, it is found throughout North America, including in our little pollinator garden!
Speciosa nectar is sweet, tantalizing and irresistible.
Recently we've been watching the diversity of insects gathering on our milkweed. Sometimes it's a pushing/shoving match or I'll-fly-away-but-I'll-be-back-as-soon-as-you-leave vow.
Have you ever seen a male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, nectaring on milkweed? The male, a green-eyed blond about the size of a queen bumble bee, can't sting. Or as native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis says--"Boy bees can't sting." He calls it "the teddy bear bee." What could be more cuddly than this little fellow?
So here's this teddy bear bee trying to grab some nectar while honey bees are buzzing around him trying to get their share. He's bigger; they're louder.
And then, the female of this Valley carpenter bee species (she's solid black--the two represent a clear case of sexual dimorphism) comes along and the bees scatter. Our boy bee does, too.
The bees will be back. The nectar is sweet, tantalizing and irresistible.
There's an old saying applicable to child-rearing: "First you give them roots, and then you give them wings."
Roots to ground them, to love them unconditionally. And wings for them to lift off and launch new beginnings.
Quote Investigator attributes the origin to newspaper editor Hodding Carter's book, "Where Main Street Meets the River," published in 1953. Carter credited a "wise woman" with saying that:
"A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. And they can only be grown, these roots and these wings, in the home..."
But have you ever walked through a pollinator garden and been awestuck by the beauty of wings? The iridescence wings of a female Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta?
It was Sunday, May 21 and the feeding frenzy on our showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, was in full swing: it was a pushing, shoving and sipping match for the honey bees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, lady beetles, and syrphid flies.
But it was the wings--and wing venation--of a carpenter bee sparkling in the sunlight that caught our attention.
The wing venation "clearly shows a couple of characteristic features of Xylocopa wing venation: the long slender marginal cell and the 'boot-shaped'" second submarginal ('toe' pointing toward head end)," noted native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and co-author of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, also weighed in. "They are lovely. Not too many wasps or bees wings have this iridescence. That's an old lady by the way. Look how worn her wings are."
The LOL loved the showy milkweed. But she's the one that put on the show.