“Eek, a bee!” yelped the little girl as her mother paid for some flowers at the nursery register.
“Oh, that’s just Bob; he can’t sting you. He’s a carpenter bee.” I explained, holding an open hand up toward where Bob was doing loop-de-loops. But my repeated explanations aside, most people were not buying Bob’s reported status as a gentlebee-ing. Let’s face it, an inch-long bee flying around you is hardly subtle.
Not but a couple days later, I came in to work and found a patio-style citronella candle lit near the entrance. Our manager had lit it in hopes of deterring Bob, who had been joined by another male. Like two World War 1 flying aces, they were staging aerial dogfights. “They’re not out to get anyone,” I told the other employees, “it’s territorial.” That didn’t mollify anyone, but fortunately Bob prevailed and his rival left the scene.
“Wow, that’s a BIG bumblebee!” exclaimed a customer.
“It’s a carpenter bee. They have the shiny, dark abdomens, like a brand-new pair of carpenter jeans. Bumbles are furry all over. See the white on his face? That means he’s a male. The males can’t sting.” I’ve never been stung by carpenter bees or bumbless, and have even petted them.
My current computer wallpaper is my photo of a female — isn’t she just adorable?! (more story below):
A large bee with a black head & abdomen and a gold, furry thorax, nectaring on Queen Anne's Lace
Carpenter bees (Hymenoptera, Family Apidae: Xylocopa virginica) get their name because they dig tunnels in dead wood. They use these for rearing offspring, and for overwintering. Painting wood is the easiest deterrent for preventing structures from being bored into. I couldn’t see anything in the garden center “tent” that would be a great place for setting up housekeeping (the only wooden structures nearby were thin shipping pallets), so I figured that Bob had decided that the garden center was the ne plus ultra of food resources, with its thousands of blossoms.
Like other bees, carpenters are valuable as pollinators, and like orchardists, you can buy (or make) bee blocks in hopes of attracting some. Once in a while the bees will take a short-cut and “rob” a flower by chewing through the base to get directly to the nectar. (‘nother pix, still more story)
White-faced male carpenter bee stealing necar from pink Columbine flower
While the males are hanging around being territorial, the females are busy stocking their offsprings’ larder with pollen & nectar balls. Each of their several eggs gets its own foodball and wood-pulp partition. Once the larva have hatched, eaten up their food, and metamorphosed into adults, they then chew through the wee shoji-screens, crawling over their siblings to go out and start the process over again.
Recently, Bob was nowhere to be seen. Our manager explained that when he was cleaning up the other night, he realized that the broom made a great fly-swatter. Apparently I looked dismayed, because he went on to explain that something unexpected happened the next day. “Bob’s brother or cousin or friend or who-ever moved in, several of them!”
This made me laugh. ” ‘Nature abhors a vacuum.’ There was an opening in the territory!”
But our story has a serendipitous ending. As the days have grown hotter, our manager brought out a standing fan to help keep everyone cool as they stand by the register. Apparently carpenter bees are befuddled — or bothered — by the steady stream of air, and they left to hang around elsewhere.
“Oh, that’s fabulous! You worked with their behavior, not against it. You always get better results that way, whether it’s insects, students, or employees. That was really clever.”