Eastern Carpenter Bee

Common Name: Eastern Carpenter Bee.

Scientific Name: Xylocopa Virginica.

What to look for?  ?  Large black and yellow bee that is not fuzzy! The Eastern Carpenter Bee has a black head. The thorax is covered in short yellow hairs with a bald spot in the center. The abdomen is glossy black and hairless except for a band of yellow hairs that sits at the top. Eastern Carpenter Bees somewhat resemble bumble bees. Bumble bees have a noticeably fuzzy abdomen, usually with a prominent yellow band across it, whereas, the Eastern Carpenter Bee has black, shiny abdomen.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? The Eastern Carpenter Bee can be found during summer visiting the Wild Bergamots and other wildflowers around Carillon Stonegate Ponds.

How big are they? The Eastern Carpenter Bee averages approximately one inch in length.

What are their flight patterns? Male Eastern Carpenter Bees often have long period of hovering, flying or in fast pursuit of intruders. While female flight activity is usually very directed, such as flights to flowers and food sites. Flight near the nest is usually uniform and involve a lot of hovering. Flights protecting their territory could be as short as a few minutes or may extend beyond an hour.

How else do they behave? Unlike honeybees and bumble bees where there are queen or worker castes, the Eastern Carpenter Bee species has only individual males and females. Carpenter bees are rather solitary. They excavate their nests in wood. Carpenter bees have been known to exhibit nectar robbing behavior. The male bee has no stinger, whereas the female does and will sting if provoked.

What’s for dinner? The Eastern Carpenter Bee feeds on pollen and nectar from a wide variety of flat-ish flowers. They are considered valuable native pollinators in a world where pollinator populations are shrinking. But sometimes these medium-tongued bees cannot reach deep enough into a flower to reach nectar. In this situation, they will do an end run and tunnel into the flower from the outside to harvest the nectar, by-passing the pollen and leaving a hole that other insects take advantage of.

Where do they take up residence? The Eastern Carpenter Bee lives throughout the eastern U.S. Their habitat generally requires forest or woodlands – sometimes, residential wooden decks - that are near areas with flowers.

When and where do they breed and nest? A female Eastern Carpenter Bee excavates a half-inch wide hole in wood. Over time as the nest is reused and extended, it becomes honey-combed. These nests may be either social, containing groups of two to five females – each with their own chambers, or solitary. Along the main path, she excavates six-inch long side chambers. A single entrance leads to some twenty individual chambers. Pollen and nectar are laid in the chambers. The female(s) lays her eggs. After this energy-intensive exercise, the female soon dies soon. When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the pollen and nectar and pupates within its chamber. It emerges as an adult in late summer, feeds for a while, and then retires to its natal nest to overwinter. Males wake up in spring, and the cycle restarts. The life span is approximately one (1) year. One generation per year in most of range.

Where do they migrate? The Eastern Carpenter Bee does not migrate.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Like that Beach Boys hit song – “Good Vibrations”, “good vibrations” are key to their buzzing sound! Carpenter bees as well as bumble bees make that familiar buzzing sound. This sound occurs when the bee fastens its jaw to a flowering plant and move their flight muscles vigorously. This vibrating movement causes pollen grains to be released from the flower’s stamen, which adhere to the hair on the bee’s body, and results in the buzzing sound.

Interesting Facts About the Eastern Carpenter Bee (and carpenter bees in general):

  • Along with bumble bee queens, carpenter bees (genus Xylocopa) are the largest native bees in the United States.

  • Carpenter Bees get their name from their habit of excavating rounded galleries inside wood.

  • The Eastern Carpenter Bee deposits a scent on a flower immediately following nectar collection that discourages other bees from returning to that same flower.

For more information on the Eastern Carpenter Bee (and other carpenter bees) and sources of information used in this blog (these are the several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Iowa State University BugGuide, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Bug Lady, Missouri Department of Conservation Field Guide and Insect Identification for the Casual Observer.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!