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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Great Pretender

A familiar sight around here in the spring and summer time is the Eastern Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa virginica. I have always found these creatures fascinating mainly due to their behavior.

I'll bet most of you are familiar with the male (drone) of the species. The males are large and have the appearance of bumblebees. Carpenter Bees have a slick, black abdomen unlike Bumblebees which have fuzzy abdomens, and a large white or yellow square spot on their heads. They also tend to get your attention in that they are very curious of anything that moves in the close vicinity of their nest or favorite flowers and are frequently perceived by humans as quite aggressive.

Actually, the drones are only aggressive to other drones who might try to suck up to the females. I have been amused by these drones hovering right in front of me as I walk down the pier at the marina, trying to block my way on the catwalk. Not to worry, the drones have no stinger so they could do no damage even if they wanted to. It is strictly all for show.

In the insect world, drones are historically lazy and useless, their only real function is to mate with a female. The Carpenter Bee drones are no different. They are strong pollinators and drink nectar from flowers, but this behavior is strictly for their own self preservation. They make no contribution to the nest. I am sure that many of the femi-nazis out there view us white Anglosaxon males as useless drones.

Female Carpenter Bees have a stinger but are totally non aggressive and there are accounts of them even being touched by humans without retaliation. They usually spend time boring holes in wood where they make their nests, nourish their larvae, and hibernate. They also pollinate flowers and collect nectar but in the case of the females, for the benefit of the nest.

The females will bore holes in the wood (they do not eat wood) and often leave a pile of sweepings (sawdust) underneath their holes. There has been concern of damage to structures caused by Carpenter Bees, but in reality more damage is frequently caused by woodpeckers that go after the larvae.

Painting or staining wood tends to deter the bees. Some have found that providing several pieces of bare wood for them will tend to move them away from important structures. Old sheds or barns tend to be havens for Carpenter Bees.

So the next time you see this large black shiny bee hovering in your path, smile and go about your merry way without fear. Alas, the drone is simply a great pretender and another one of God's amazing creations.

1 comment:

  1. Unlike the squireles who will eat the wood off your stairs and deck when it's covered with green moss/growth.

    Debbie Hamilton
    Right Truth