I used to think bees were social insects that lived in above-ground hives and produce honey – no exceptions. I only realised that there are solitary bees and some that are a bit of both when I had a chance encounter with a Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa spp) on campus last Spring.
I was most curious when I saw this creature in the middle of the road. It’s not a honeybee, it’s not a beetle, it’s not a fly, it’s not a wasp, what could it be? Thanks to its characteristic appearance, the mystery was solved soon enough; voilà – it’s a Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa appendiculata)!
Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa spp) are often confused with Bumblebees (Bombus spp) because they are both large and have yellow coloured setae on their body. Their differences are obvious when compared side by side: Bumblebees (Bombus spp) have setae on their abdomen, whereas Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa spp) have setae on their thorax (with a bald patch in the middle). Bumblebees (Bombus app) are also much larger and have corbiculae (pollen baskets) on their hind legs.
Appearances aside, the Carpenter Bee’s (Xylocopa spp) nesting habits put it in a league of its own. The females nest by tunnelling into dead wood or bamboo. Once the main gallery is completed, they make individual chambers by using ground wood particles as partitioning. They then lay one egg in each cell (babies ought to have privacy!). Depending on the species, Carpenter Bees are either solitary or cohabit with their daughters and sisters. In the latter case, one female is usually responsible for collecting nectar and pollen for the young, while the others stay on guard near the nest entrance. Males seem to have a much simpler existence: species with large eyes patrol for potential lady loves, the ones with stamina hover until a female passes by, and others release pheromones as they fly. Since the bees merely work with wood and do not eat it, they are commonly called Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa spp). The Japanese believe the Carpenter Bee bears a strong resemblance to Kumamon and have thus named them Kumabachi (bear bee).
Though seemingly harmless, they attract Woodpeckers (Picidae app), who bring doom to all on its path to a tasty meal of juicy, tender, and succulent larvae: including the bee’s tribe, your house, or the unfortunate tree the mother bee decided to nest in.