While visiting Madeira Beach my family ventured up to Florida Botanical Gardens and found a bee that is very rarely found in Colorado. The carpenter bee, Xylocopa, is known for carving perfectly round tunnels into soft wood for nesting. Carpenter bees are solitary nesters of wood and plant stalks. They use sawdust to partition between developing bees (See a PHOTO here) . In the eastern parts of the US carpenter bees nest in wood, but in the desert areas of the west, they nest in yucca stalks, among other plant stalks.
They have large, meaty mandibles that are used for creating these perfectly round openings, and can sometimes become a perceived nuisance. However, they are important pollinators all over the world. They pollinate passionfruit flowers, Brazil nuts, and in some countries, tomatoes (Learn more with The Bees in Your Backyard). Their size can make it challenging to fit inside some flowers to extract nectar, so you will see them robbing flowers of nectar, as seen below.
Nectar robbing consists of grabbing onto the outside of a flower and cutting a slit at the base of the bloom to suck the nectar out without ever touching the pollen, or reproductive parts of the flower. Thus, not serving as an important pollinator to that flower. However, flowers replenish nectar stores within minutes of a bee’s visit, so this is unlikely to have a significant negative affect on the flower’s reproductive potential with the thousands of other species of bees taking an interest in these blooms.
Bumblebees are visiting some of the same flowers the carpenter bees were also robbing. The difference between the bumblebee and the carpenter bee is the amount of hairs on their bodies. The abdomen of carpenter bees is smooth and shiny, whereas the bumblebee’s abdomen is hairy, and often striped with various color patterns.
Interestingly, I did spot a honeybee sucking nectar from the holes this little carpenter bee had made in these blooms. The ‘bad’ habit seems to be appreciated by some other bee species…might as well benefit from another’s efforts.
This is what makes vacations that much more exciting for me; collecting more bee photos, and opportunities to share with you! I would love to hear stories of carpenter bee experiences from you, and any photos you have tagged with #thebeeswaggle. Thank you for joining the movement to know our bees, and protect our bees.